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Updated: 5 hours 26 min ago

The War against Workers and the Poor

11 hours 27 min ago

In 2017 the United States finds itself with a billionaire president who defeated, as adjudged by electoral college votes, the multimillionaire Hillary Clinton. In fact, high political office in the US has become a stepping stone to personal enrichment. Barack Obama is cashing in now with exorbitant book deals and speaking fees.

It is highly illustrative of the divide between the working masses and the 1%-ers of Wall Street who effectively own the American political system. The politicians know the voters want change, but they also know who butters their bread. Empty campaign promises are followed by endless betrayals.

While the common folk fight asymmetrical US wars far from American shores, the fat cat Wall Street investors profit from the violence. It is nothing new. In the introduction to Scott Noble’s Plutocracy: Class War we find 19th century president Rutherford B. Hayes writing in his diary that the United States had become a government “of corporations, by corporations and for corporations.”

Noble is a brilliant thinker and excellent filmmaker. Working with the tightest of budgets he has produced several significant documentaries on power relations and the human condition – all available at Metanoia Films for free viewing. Metanoia’s recent release is the third installment of the Plutocracy series. It is set around the period of the First World War, a time of unprecedented labor unrest and state repression.

Class War begins in Ludlow, Colorado with the massacre instigated by the robber baron J.D. Rockefeller using the Colorado National Guard. Troops machine gunned a tent city housing striking coal miners and their families then set fire to the camp. Eleven children, two women and ten miners were killed. The Ludlow Massacre epitomizes how government has used violence at the behest of wealthy industrialists against the working class.

Source: Top Documentary Films

Class War tells the tale of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), known as the Wobblies. The Wobblies were an anarcho-syndicalist union open to all skill levels, races, and sexes. Such progressivism was met with state violence, including the use of torture. Frightened of their appeal to poor workers, several states banned Wobblies from public speaking.

As activist Brian Jones explains in the film, the Wobblies were “unwilling to accept terms of exploitation.” They devised innovative tactics such as sit-down strikes and revolving picket lines. This was an unacceptable challenged to the owner class. The organs of the state, police, security forces, and the so-called justice system were bent to the cause of the robber barons.

Class War tells of Joe Hill, an IWW-union organizer and popular singer, song-writer. Among his songs was “Preacher and Slave” – a response to the Salvation Army preaching docility to workers. Eventually Hill was tried for the murder of a grocer and executed by firing squad. The evidence implicating Hill was flimsy at best. According to the film, the more likely culprit was a petty criminal named Magnus Olsen, who went on to serve as a bodyguard for the gangster Al Capone.

Class War tells many stories of men and women who resisted the oppression of the age. Along with Joe Hill, we learn of Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, Helen Keller, Frank Little, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Rosa Luxemburg, Anna Louise Strong and more. The fight for the dignity of labor was vast.

When a movement becomes large, the age-old tactic is to divide it. The advent of WWI provided the state with such a divisive tool. The IWW was anti-war, but president Woodrow Wilson secured the volte-face of the American Federation of Labor whose union head Samuel Gompers was offered a government advisory position. Gompers was anti-IWW and an anti-socialist. This eased the government’s push for US entry into WWI. In his book The Great Class War 1914-1918, historian Jacques R. Pauwels compellingly paints WWI as a class-war instrument.

Anti-war socialist Eugene Debs noted that workers were the chattel for wars. He captured the public sentiment such that, in 1916, one group of Nebraska citizens petitioned for a constitutional amendment whereby any politician casting a vote for war would be required to volunteer for war duty. Needless to say, the petition failed.

Graeme MacQueen of the Center for Peace Studies notes in the film that WWI was engineered by European aristocrats and capitalists. Competing and collapsing empires sought to secure resources, territory, slaves, and markets. At the time, the conflict was openly praised by leaders as a “romantic adventure.” The reality was more akin to a “slaughterhouse.”

A split occurred among women’s groups and socialists in opposition to war. This split was brought about by – as Christopher Simpson, author of The Science of Coercion comments – “feel good propaganda,” as well as the slandering of anti-war people as cowards and traitors. In Illinois, a German immigrant and socialist named Robert Prayger was lynched after being falsely accused of being a German spy.

Propaganda, disinformation, and false flags were part of the imperialist repertoire. The ocean liner RMS Lusitania carrying munitions from New York to England was sunk by a German U-boat. Americans on board were sacrificed; American conscription was enacted. In Oklahoma, on August 1917, a coalition of desperately poor sharecroppers and tenant farmers opposed to conscription and the war began a march on Washington. It was called the Green Corn Rebellion. Notably the coalition was multi-racial, made up of blacks, whites, and Mukogee people. The rebellion was violently halted by posses organized by business leaders and state officials.

The Wobblies were entrenched as enemy number one. Two leaders (Frank Mooney and Warren Billings) were framed for a bombing in San Francisco and spent 20 years in prison. IWW offices were raided and union leaders arrested under the Espionage Act — which prohibited any attempts to interfere with the war effort. Among others imprisoned under the legislation were socialist leader Eugene Debs and anarchist leader Ricardo Flores Magon.

Following the horrifying Prospector mine disaster in Butte, Montana, IWW leader Frank Little arrived and urged Americans to “fight the capitalists but not the Germans.” He was lynched by “capitalists interests” the next day. Little’s murder was especially brutal: he was tied to the bumper of a car wearing only his underwear and dragged down the street for several miles, then strangled to death. No suspects were charged by authorities, some of whom were considered complicit.

State actors and right-wing vigilante groups such as the Klu Klux Klan and American Protective League (APL) terrorized unionists and socialists, culminating in the Red Scare. The Sedition and Immigration Acts of 1918 sought to further curb the actions of dissidents, allowing for the deportation of anarchists and other “undesirables.” It was during this period that the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI) became a force to be reckoned with. A new “radical” division headed up by a young J. Edgar Hoover engaged in a campaign of terror against poor immigrants. Their tactics included assault, false imprisonment, unconstitutional search and seizure, the use of agent provocateurs, and ultimately deportation.

Women munition workers turning copper bands for artillery shells during the First World War at Royal Shell Factory (Source: Pinterest)

Worker rights could be viewed as a backdrop to WWI. The war caused an industrial boom. The cotton crop decimations led to the migration of African Americans northward. They were met with hostility and later race riots. Unlike most liberal and quasi-left analyses of racism, the film does not blame “white people” as a group. Instead it draws attention to the ways in which poor workers were turned against each other in their desperate attempts to survive in a capitalist economy.

The year 1919 was a high point for strikes. Class War winds up in Seattle where workers staged a general strike for the right to a living wage, worker safety, and free speech. Labor sought to avoid harming others through the strike and issued passes for necessary work (e.g., doctors and nurses). Nonetheless, the workers’ vision for a just society was again put down by the state.

Class War documents how the government has always sided with money against the worker. The state’s arsenal against unions and labor has included war, propaganda, disinformation, agents provocateurs, violence, false flags, state agents (police, FBI, vigilantes, the attorney general, courts), and the so-called justice system.

The film presents a plethora of information, with first-rate narration, at an appropriate pace for it to sink in. There are plenty of fascinating snippets of little known history, and there are also some inspirational sequences to offset the often grim subject matter. Class War is a necessary backgrounder to understanding our present situation. The viewer will be able to identify obvious parallels with current events.

Filmmaker Scott Noble hopes to bring the Plutocracy documentary series to the present day. I hope to see that. Metanoia Films is currently raising funds to complete subsequent entries in this worthy series. You can donate here.

  • The original source of this article is Global Research.
  • Elections: Absenteeism, Boycotts, and the Class Struggle

    Mon, 2017-06-26 19:18

    The most striking feature of recent elections is not ‘who won or who lost’, nor is it the personalities, parties and programs. The dominant characteristic of the elections is the widespread repudiation of the electoral system, political campaigns, parties and candidates.

    Across the world, majorities and pluralities of citizens of voting age refuse to even register to vote (unless obligated by law), refuse to turn out to vote (voter abstention), or vote against all the candidates (boycott by empty ballot and ballot spoilage).

    If we add the many citizen activists who are too young to vote, citizens denied voting rights because of past criminal (often minor) convictions, impoverished citizens and minorities denied voting rights through manipulation and gerrymandering, we find that the actual ‘voting public’ shrivel to a small minority.

    As a result, present day elections have been reduced to a theatrical competition among the elite for the votes of a minority. This situation describes an oligarchy – not a healthy democracy.

    Oligarchic Competition

    Oligarchs compete and alternate with one another over controlling and defining who votes and doesn’t vote. They decide who secures plutocratic financing and mass media propaganda within a tiny corporate sector. ‘Voter choice’ refers to deciding which preselected candidates are acceptable for carrying out an agenda of imperial conquests, deepening class inequalities and securing legal impunity for the oligarchs, their political representatives and state, police and military officials.

    Oligarchic politicians depend on the systematic plundering Treasury to facilitate and protect billion dollar/billion euro stock market swindles and the illegal accumulation of trillions of dollars and Euros via tax evasion (capital flight) and money laundering.

    The results of elections and the faces of the candidates may change but the fundamental economic and military apparatus remains the same to serve an ever tightening oligarchic rule.

    The elite regimes change, but the permanence of state apparatus designed to serve the elite becomes ever more obvious to the citizens.

    Why the Oligarchy Celebrates “Democracy”

    The politicians who participate in the restrictive and minoritarian electoral system, with its predetermined oligarchic results, celebrate ‘elections’ as a democratic process because a plurality of voters, as subordinate subjects, are incorporated.

    Academics, journalists and experts argue that a system in which elite competition defines citizen choice has become the only way to protect ‘democracy’ from the irrational ‘populist’ rhetoric appealing to a mass of citizens vulnerable to authoritarianism (the so-called ‘deplorables’). The low voter turn-out in recent elections reduces the threat posed by such undesirable voters.

    A serious objective analysis of present-day electoral politics demonstrates that when the masses do vote for their class interests — the results deepen and extend social democracy. When most voters, non-voters and excluded citizens choose to abstain or boycott elections they have sound reasons for repudiating plutocratic-controlled oligarchic choices.

    We will proceed to examine the recent June 2017 voter turnout in the elections in France, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico. We will then look at the intrinsic irrationality of citizens voting for elite politicos as opposed to the solid good sense of the popular classes rejection of elite elections and their turn to extra-parliamentary action.

    Puerto Rico’s Referendum

    The major TV networks (NBC, ABC and CBS) and the prestigious print media (New York Times, Washington Post, and Financial Times) hailed the ‘overwhelming victory’ of the recent pro-annexationist vote in Puerto Rico. They cited the 98% vote in favor of becoming a US state!

    The media ignored the fact that a mere 28% of Puerto Ricans participated in the elections to vote for a total US takeover. Over 77% of the eligible voters abstained or boycotted the referendum.

    In other words, over three quarters of the Puerto Rican people rejected the sham ‘political elite election’. Instead, the majority voted with their feet in the streets through direct action.

    France’s Micro-Bonaparte

    In the same way, the mass media celebrated what they dubbed a ‘tidal wave’ of electoral support for French President Emmanuel Macron and his new party, ‘the Republic in March’. Despite the enormous media propaganda push for Macron, a clear majority of the electorate (58%) abstained or spoiled their ballots, therefore rejecting all parties and candidates, and the entire French electoral system. This hardly constitutes a ‘tidal wave’ of citizen support in a democracy.

    During the first round of the parliamentary election, President Macron’s candidates received 27% of the vote, barely exceeding the combined vote of the left socialist and nationalist populist parties, which had secured 25% of the vote. In the second round, Macron’s party received less then 20% of the eligible vote.

    In other words, the anti-Macron rejectionists represented over three quarters of the French electorate. After these elections a significant proportion of the French people – especially among the working class –will likely choose extra-parliamentary direct action, as the most democratic expression of representative politics.

    The United Kingdom: Class Struggle and the Election Results

    The June 2017 parliamentary elections in the UK resulted in a minority Conservative regime forced to form an alliance with the fringe Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a far-right para-military Protestant party from Northern Ireland. The Conservatives received 48% of registered voters to 40% who voted for the Labor Party. However, 15 million citizens, or one-third of the total electorate abstained or spoiled their ballots. The Conservative regime’s plurality represented 32% of the electorate.

    Despite a virulent anti-Labor campaign in the oligarch-controlled mass media, the combined Labor vote and abstaining citizens clearly formed a majority of the population, which will be excluded from any role the post-election oligarchic regime despite the increase in the turnout (in comparison to previous elections).

    Elections: Oligarchs in Office, Workers in the Street

    The striking differences in the rate of abstention in France, Puerto Rico, and the UK reflect the levels of class dissatisfaction and rejection of electoral politics.

    The UK elections provided the electorate with something resembling a class alternative in the candidacy of Jeremy Corbyn. The Labor Party under Corbyn presented a progressive social democratic program promising substantial and necessary increases in social welfare spending (health, education and housing) to be funded by higher progressive taxes on the upper and upper middle class.

    Corbyn’s foreign policy promised to end the UK’s involvement in imperialist wars and to withdraw troops from the Middle East. He also re-confirmed his long opposition to Israel’s colonial land-grabbing and oppression of the Palestinian people, as a principled way to reduce terrorist attacks at home.

    In other words, Corbyn recognized that introducing real class-based politics would increase voter participation. This was especially true among young voters in the 18-25 year age group, who were among the UK citizens most harmed by the loss of stable factory jobs, the doubling of university fees and the cuts in national health services.

    In contrast, the French legislative elections saw the highest rate of voter abstention since the founding of the 5th Republic. These high rates reflect broad popular opposition to ultra-neoliberal President Francois Macron and the absence of real opposition parties engaged in class struggle.

    The lowest voter turn-out (72%) occurred in Puerto Rico. This reflects growing mass opposition to the corrupt political elite, the economic depression and the colonial and semi-colonial offerings of the two-major parties. The absence of political movements and parties tied to class struggle led to greater reliance on direct action and voter abstention.

    Clearly class politics is the major factor determining voter turnout. The absence of class struggle increases the power of the elite mass media, which promotes the highly divisive identity politics and demonizes left parties. All of these increase both abstention and the vote for right-wing politicians, like Macron.

    The mass media grossly inflated the significance of the Right’s election victories of the while ignoring the huge wave of citizens rejecting the entire electoral process. In the case of the UK, the appearance of class politics through Jeremy Corbyn increased voter turnout for the Labor Party. However, Labor has a history of first making left promises and ending up with right turns. Any future Labor betrayal will increase voter abstention.

    The established parties and the media work in tandem to confine elections to a choreographed contest among competing elites divorced from direct participation by the working classes. This effectively excludes the citizens who have been most harmed by the ruling class’ austerity programs implemented by successive rightist and Social Democratic parties.

    The decision of many citizens not to vote is based on taking a very rational and informed view of the ruling political elites who have slashed their living standards often by forcing workers to compete with immigrants for low paying, unstable jobs. It is deeply rational for citizens to refuse to vote for within a rigged system, which only worsens their living conditions through its attacks on the public sector, social welfare and labor codes while cutting taxes on capital.


    The vast majority citizens in the wage and salaried class do not trust the political elites. They see electoral campaigns as empty exercises, financed by and for plutocrats.

    Most citizens recognize (and despise) the mass media as elite propaganda megaphones fabricating ‘popular’ images to promote anti-working class politicians, while demonizing political activists engaged in class-based struggles.

    Nevertheless, elite elections will not produce an effective consolidation of right-wing rule. Voter abstention will not lead to abstention from direct action when the citizens recognize their class interests are in grave jeopardy.

    The Macron regime’s parliamentary majority will turn into an impotent minority as soon as he tries carry out his elite promise to slash the jobs of hundreds of thousands of French public sector workers, smash France’s progressive labor codes and the industry-wide collective bargaining system and pursue new colonial wars.

    Puerto Rico’s profound economic depression and social crisis will not be resolved through a referendum with on 27% of the voter participation. Large-scale demonstrations will preclude US annexation and deepen mass demands for class-based alternatives to colonial rule.

    Conservative rule in the UK is divided by inter-elite rivalries both at home and abroad. ‘Brexit’, the first step in the break-up of the EU, opens opportunities for deeper class struggle. The social-economic promises made by Jeremy Corbyn and his left-wing of the Labor Party energized working class voters, but if it does not fundamentally challenge capital, it will revert to being a marginal force.

    The weakness and rivalries within the British ruling class will not be resolved in Parliament or by any new elections.

    The demise of the UK, the provocation of a Conservative-DUP alliance and the end of the EU (BREXIT) raises the chance for successful mass extra-parliamentary struggles against the authoritarian neo-liberal attacks on workers’ civil rights and class interests.

    Elite elections and their outcomes in Europe and elsewhere are laying the groundwork for a revival and radicalization of the class struggle.

    In the final analysis class rule is not decided via elite elections among oligarchs and their mass media propaganda. Once dismissed as a ‘vestige of the past’, the revival of class struggle is clearly on the horizon.

    Humiliating UN Defeat for UK on Diego Garcia Vote

    Mon, 2017-06-26 04:21

    On Thursday of last week (22/6/17) the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly by 94 votes to 15, with 64 abstentions, on a motion advanced by Mauritius seeking a referral to the International court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion on the Chagos Islands.

    One suspects that the majority of any given population in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia would have trouble identifying where the Chagos Islands might be, let alone the significance of the vote.

    It was, however, a vote of considerable significance and to understand why, and the identity of the 15 naysayers, a brief history is in order.

    The Chagos Archipelago is located in the central Indian Ocean. It was part of the British colony of Mauritius until 1965 when it was detached from Mauritius and included in a new entity called the British Indian Ocean Territory. The British paid the colony the sum of three million pounds for the islands. The concept of a colonial power negotiating with one of its subjects to “purchase” part of its sovereign territory is fraught with issues, not the last of which is the unequal bargaining power of the two entitles. There is another significant problem that will be returned to below.

    Between 1965 and 1968, when Mauritius gained its independence, the British government forcibly removed the whole of the Chagos population. They were mostly resettled in the UK and the USA. That wholesale removal of the population has been a running legal sore ever since.

    Why would the British wish to purchase some remote specks of land in the Indian Ocean and treat its inhabitants in such an appalling manner? The answer to that question becomes immediately apparent when one realizes that the only significant island in the Chagos Group is Diego Garcia.

    Having acquired the island in dubious circumstances and deported its entire population, the British then handed it over to the Americans who constructed a massive military base there. Another legal fiction is that it is a “joint” US-UK base, although evidence for that is virtually non-existent. The Americans were granted a 50-year lease, although they did not pay a single dollar for the privilege. That lease was extended for a further 20 years in December 2016.

    Diego Garcia has acquired a further unenviable reputation since becoming essentially another military outpost. It is now part of the network of US military bases used to extrapolate US military power to wherever that power is needed to advance US geopolitical aims.

    It has also been used as a staging post for ‘extraordinary rendition’ (i.e. unlawful kidnapping and shipment of individuals), and as one of the US’s network of centres for ‘enhanced interrogation’, ( i.e. torture). The British may wish to reflect on their willingness to maintain the “joint facility” claim as joint management carries with a joint liability for the many and varied breaches of international law conducted on or from the island.

    In the UN, the British ambassador argued that monetary compensation had been provided to Mauritius; and that it was a bilateral matter between the UK and Mauritius and that it should remain so.

    That latter argument, also advanced by a number of the handful of countries who voted in support of the UK position, ignores both the actual resolution and an important body of international law that lies behind it.

    The first part of the resolution, which is the only part to be discussed here, asks:

    Was the process of decolonization of Mauritius lawfully completed when Mauritius was granted independence in 1968 following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and having regard to international law, including obligations reflected in General Assembly Resolution 1514 of 14 December 1960…

    The significance of this part of the resolution is twofold. It does not go to the issue of whether Mauritius had sovereignty over the islands, but whether the process of decolonization was lawfully competed.

    Secondly, the UN General Assembly Resolution referred to (1514 of 1960) makes it clear that the breaking up of colonies before independence is specifically prohibited.

    In the present case, that is exactly what the UK did when it must have known that such an action was illegal under international law. Not for the first time, and one is confident, certainly not for the last time, international law for the major western powers is only a tool of geopolitical convenience. Western political leaders, of whom Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is a prominent example, are fond of using phrases such as ‘the rule of law’ and ‘the rules based international order’.

    There is a manifest disjunction between the rhetoric and the application in a wide range of areas, including in Australia’s case, the treatment of refugees and involvement in numerous illegal wars of choice.

    It was therefore no surprise that Australia was one of the 15 countries that voted against the Mauritian resolution. The Australian UN representative was voting against the resolution she said, because:

    1. It was not appropriate to use the Court’s advisory opinion jurisdiction to determine the rights and interests of States arising from a specific context.

    2. The Diego Garcia military base played a pivotal part in the global fight against terrorism (and) that it was in the interests of all to ensure that there was no uncertainty about its status that could jeopardise its contribution to international peace and security.

    This argument is beyond satire. It may be one reason why the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s official website makes absolutely no mention of the UN vote and why Australia was part of a tiny minority (UK, USA, Israel, Afghanistan, Albania, Japan and South Korea were among the others) so out of step with the overwhelming weight of world opinion.

    Similarly, the two major Australian newspaper chains (Murdoch and Fairfax) also failed to carry a single report on the debate, the outcome, or its considerable significance. Far easier, it would seem, to pretend something has not happened, than to have to justify yet another indefensible position.

    Congo Still Struggles for Genuine Independence

    Mon, 2017-06-26 04:10

    On 29 June 2017, the Congolese Solidarity Campaign (CSC), a grassroots human rights based social movement will once again hold its Un-Independence Day event in a form of panel discussion. It will take place at the Diakonia Centre — 20 Diakonia venue, Durban, South Africa.

    While the rest of the country celebrates 57 years of “Independence,” we the impoverished, the marginalized and the oppressed will be mourning the absence of this independence that our mothers and fathers fought for so hard. We will say as long as the history of our country is still characterized by civil wars, political instability, insecurity, conflict, gross human rights violation, corruption, democracy deficit and economic mismanagement.

    On June 30, 1960 the Democratic Republic of Congo was granted independence from the Belgian government. This Independence came with little struggle between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Belgium. Each year on June 30, the Democratic Republic of Congo celebrates its Independence Day. Yet the people still struggle for full Independence today in an environment full of armed conflict. The Democratic Republic of Congo is endowed with many natural resources. It has a large reserves of water, fertile land and a large quantity of natural resources including diamonds, salt, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum.… Many of its natural resources remain undiscovered or barely harnessed.

    The country has become the killing fields of capitalism, where behind every slaughter, bloodshed, rape, massacre and looting stand imperialist interests. Imperialist looting and barbarism have led hundreds of thousands of ordinary people to have the country and become asylum seekers in many parts of the world and also in South Africa. The local looters (Rwanda and Uganda) are puppets and stooges for larger imperialist powers who are happy to support them as long as they can get the hands on share of the spoils. These imperialist bosses are operating from the City of London (UK) and Wall Street (Washington). They continue to arm and sponsor different rebel groups through their agents in the regions ensuring a continuous political instability.

    The United Nations peacekeeping force was deployed in 1998 with a mandate to maintain peace and stability. However, it has dismally failed to maintain peace and stability. The blood of innocent Congolese people continue to be shed for imperialist interests.

    We call on all progressive movements, organizations, which are fighting to build peace, established justice, unity and all those who are concerned about the political and economic crisis in the country and out of country, to join us when we mourn our lack of Independence.

    Oppression is oppression and we will name it as such. We call on all responsible media to join with us we say that are not Independent, when we remain without peace, justice, democracy and freedom of expression.


    Mon, 2017-06-26 04:04

    Here in south Louisiana we are, to a degree, surrounded by levees. For those not familiar with them, levees are manmade earthen barriers that are designed to protect the inhabited areas of the region from rising waters and storm surges. They are not a new strategy, historical accounts tell us of levees being erected by the first European settlers to the area three centuries ago. European styled settlements were always challenged by the climate and ecology of the bayou land.

    Levees, locks, canals, and pumping stations are all modern manifestations of this centuries old effort to live against the ongoing pressures from the environment. From another perspective this reality reflects a philosophical ideal of living in opposition to the natural flow of existence. In this sense levees stand as a physical manifestation of this philosophical principle of standing against while, for millennia indigenous peoples here in what is today Louisiana have lived in a state of coexistence with their surroundings. The ebb and flow of life dictated the life-ways of the people of the land and ordered our existence.

    Most of my life was spent in Plaquemines Parish (in Louisiana counties have retained their ecclesiastical designation as parishes), which stretches from just south of New Orleans to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Growing up in the southern portion of the parish, levees were a constant part of my physical surroundings. In 1969 we lost our home in one of the small Indian settlements “outside the levee” to hurricane Camille and upon our return took up residence inside the hurricane protection system.

    For the next thirty-five years my life would evolve within the protections of those earthworks that surrounded my hometown. High school, marriage, and the birth of my children would all take place in the confines of the same south Louisiana settlement. From my front yard looking east you could see the great ships passing in the river, if you looked up that is. The inhabited land in southern Plaquemines within the levees is on average about 15 feet below sea level and only the levees keep out the Mississippi River to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west.

    And so it was, for those thirty-five years that despite numerous storms and hurricanes the levees kept us safe and dry. Within the shadows of those man-made dikes the community survived and prospered in spite of nature’s seasonal upheavals. The U.S. Corps of Engineers had constructed a defacto barrier between the manufactured world I lived in every day and the reality of the ecosystem that surrounded us.

    This all came crashing down on August 29th 2005 when hurricane Katrina came to call. Her thirty foot storm surge rolled ashore to challenge our hurricane protection walls that had stood for over three decades and our protection was found wanting. Two or three major breeches were all that was needed to put my home and the homes of my neighbors underwater. On that day we learned that no matter how much time, money, and effort is put into levee construction they are not, on their own, a permanent solution for the security of at risk communities.

    During those years before 2005 as the real levees grew in high and breath the vibrant marshlands outside them deteriorated as the avarice of 20th century economic development devoured them. From the inside there is a false sense of security that grew with each year that passed while the forces of coastal erosion raged on. Since the 1930s Louisiana has lost over 2000 square miles of land, but since 1969 we were “safe” inside the levees.

    I think about that lesson as I contemplate the metaphorical levee that surround us just as those physical one did. We don’t recognize them as levees but they are artificially constructed barriers that seek to shield us from the realities that exist outside of them. They exist in many forms and in many areas but they all have in common a foundation based on a constructed reality. And as we do with the physical ones, we need to set our sights on what is transpiring outside our figurative levees.

    Ironically it is again in New Orleans, the focal point for physical levee failures in 2005, in which the failure of a philosophical barrier transpires in 2017. In the last few months all eyes have turned to the Crescent City as several century old monuments dedicated to the long defeated Confederate States were removed from their positions of prominence. Battle lines erected between those who supported the administration of Mayor Landrieu and his removal directive and those who opposed him in the name of heritage and history exposed the fallacy of many of the accepted views on the status of race relations in the city and in the state.

    Race relations stand as a levee constructed over decades and giving us the sense of security based on the idea that we have not fully attained equality but we are “headed in the right direction.” The barrier is well known though not readily recognized for what it truly is. We are taught about the progress we’ve made, reminded about the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the election of Barack Obama all of which assures us protection from a social and civil system based on discriminatory statutes and traditions. We have the ability within this levee to realize the great American creed that all men are created equal.

    But here in New Orleans within the levees, both physical and metaphorical, stood those statues dedicated to the battles and heroes of the Confederate States of America. For decades they have stood in counter distinction to the civil rights struggles that have transpired in their shadow. As the controversy over their existence reached its recent crescendo one could not help but wonder about the world that has transpired under the shadow of Robert E. Lee’s statue in the now oddly named “Lee’s Circle.”

    To the defenders of the Confederate statuary these are memorials to a particular part of the city’s three centuries of history. The monuments to Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, and the Battle of Liberty Place commemorate the men who stood for a noble, though ill-fated cause and attest to heritage and not hate. The War Between the States is framed as a conflict over state’s rights and the issue of slavery is greatly minimized. These noble men fought in what their generation would call The War of Northern Aggression and their memory should continue to be honored.

    In truth these shrines were erected in honor of an insurrection that sought to tear apart the nineteenth century United States of America to maintain an economic system that depended on chattel slavery to survive and prosper. No less a voice than Alexander Stevens, the Vice-President of the Confederacy, would declare in 1861 that slavery was the cornerstone on which the Confederacy was founded. This fact is reinforced by the succession proclamations of the individual states and stands in opposition to the modern defenders of these particular monuments and their view of history.

    So the question asked in New Orleans, and increasingly across the south is this, can we have both a fair and just society and memorialize those who fought to prevent such a society from coming into existence. The answer for over a century in New Orleans has been yes and with that yes a levee was constructed that sought to protect both sides but in reality only fostered a false sense of peace and progress. From inside this levee we struggle to understand recent events in places like Ferguson, Missouri and movements such as Black Lives Matter because we’re shielded from the reality outside our protected system.

    In truth the conflict over slavery and race has never truly been settled in this country, Appomattox Court House was not the final word by any means. When General Sherman tried to implement his famous “40 acres and a mule policy” he understood as the military victor that to assure that victory he needed to dismantle the white power structure of the south and give the former slaves an economic and social step-up to real equality. That effort continued sporadically through the Reconstruction Era but ended when Federal Troops were withdrawn from the former Confederacy in 1877.

    The century of discrimination, lynching, and Jim Crow that followed made the Civil Rights struggles of the 20th century inevitable. The just and equal society that was paid for with the pains of the Civil War and built by Reconstruction policies was abandoned for economic and political expediency. The controversial monuments of recent news reports were erected at the end of the nineteenth century more as testaments to the survival of the antebellum power structure than to bravery of Confederate leaders. Indeed the Liberty Place Monument specifically commemorates a violent insurrection instigated by the Crescent City White League against the duly elected Reconstruction government in 1874.

    None of these historical realities are addressed within our metaphorical levee so the turmoil that transpires outside their protective heights is misunderstood or ignored. When protesters raise their hands for justice or broach the age old subject of reparations there are many who are indignant or confused. Were not these issues resolved in 1865? Surely they were settled by the events in and around 1965? Why such controversy over flags and statues?

    So the levee failed and the reality it held at bay came flooding in. Those flood waters swept down monuments despite all the protestations and cries for the preservation of ‘history.” But for those who cheered the removal the question is do they understand that the waters are rising on them also. If they believe that simply removing monuments will rectify centuries of injustice and assuage liberal guilt they are as oblivious to the historic realities as the confederate flag wavers.

    Just as hurricane protection is dependent on the restoration of the ecosystem outside the levees so too is societal protection dependent on the restoration of truth outside our walls of ignorance. Repairing historical inequities depends on our acknowledgement of the historical realities of race and race relations in the United States. From inside the levee there were those who saw the election of America’s first black president in 2008 and thought we had arrived at true equality while today in 2017, outside the levee, we see the body of Philando Castile and know that we have “miles to go before we sleep.”

    Everything’s Important

    Sun, 2017-06-25 11:04

    That little kind gesture,
    which was almost without effort
    and you were barely even conscious of…
    was in fact a ‘Sign’
    the little ‘Miracle’ she had prayed for.
    The ‘Smile’ you freely returned
    with a comforting hand
    upon shaking shoulder,
    lasted merely seconds…
    but, it seeded ‘Hope’
    when all was thought lost
    and germinated into an inner strength
    which is still echoing alive today.
    The door which you held open,
    out of momentary politeness…
    made her temporarily forget
    the loneliness of widowhood.
    To remember there is ‘Light’
    as well as dark,
    and helped thaw a little of the ice
    clasping mercilessly at her heart.
    Those loose pocket shrapnel pennies
    didn’t just help him buy a warm coffee…
    but, gave ‘Energy’ and ‘Positivity’
    at crucial lowest water-mark.
    Helping tip the scales
    of ‘Courage’ and defeat in his favour,
    whilst exploding ‘Magic’ and ‘Colour’
    back into the greys of the battling day.

    Taming North Ken

    Sun, 2017-06-25 11:03

    And weaponry
    Have their uses
    That is why
    Fall from the sky
    Through clouds
    Is just what is
    Raking the corpses
    Peace seeds
    The soul
    The gun
    Using napalm
    With ease
    Fair game
    In flame
    on toast
    While 27 floors1
    Bodies left
    Steel girders
    Still hard
    Security high
    Another lie.

    1. “South Ken” is used frequently to refer to the fashionable part of the Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington. Often the chemical industry finds “new” uses for its waste or poorly disposable products, selling them even as weapons; e.g., jellied gasoline (Napalm), reactor waste (depleted uranium munitions). The same thinking penetrates the civilian sector — using foam production capacity to produce building insulation — that creates heat when it burns. In Germany, for instance, the building code prohibits use of cladding panels on buildings higher than 22 meters. This is because that is the maximum height of the fire brigade’s ladders.

    You Are Freedom, So Am I

    Sun, 2017-06-25 11:02

    From the four pillars of the earth,
    Soft sounds of comforting words are sailing,
    Whispers of an assured fate too are heard,
    That one day man shall be free, even from his own chains.

    Mouths are loudly singing this tale,
    Trumpets do echo this tiding,
    Pencils are sketching this portrait,
    And feathers do pen this dream.

    But do you want to be free, to think with your own mind?
    Do you want to see me free, whistling my own tune?
    Do you really want this for us, freedom?
    For our freedom is burning, right in our own insanity of chaotic philosophies.

    Carried Away by the Wind

    Sun, 2017-06-25 11:02

    And then the air
    left both my lungs
    as I gasped
    for the breath
    that no longer cared
    to be held
    so close,
    but wanted release
    toward a freedom
    I couldn’t fathom
    beyond broken spaces
    in my chest
    where the organ
    played its final song
    called collapse.

    “X-Ray Visions”

    Sun, 2017-06-25 11:02

    Alien deception
    Watching over us
    On the silk road

    Savvy performers
    Indeed the stars are out

    Buffalo buzz
    About some kind of
    Something in our skies

    A staircase to
    A house of cards

    Fantastic lessons
    Adventures of a lifetime
    On scientific parachutes

    Sarcastic needles
    Change your mind
    Under the influence
    It’s closing time

    X-Ray visions
    Too wasted to perform
    The veil
    They Live

    Solving crooked riddles
    Running away
    From lava lamp workshops
    In stolen shades and
    Tattered boots

    Tell me something
    I don’t already know

    Put these on

    Ten Thousand Starlings

    Sun, 2017-06-25 11:02

    the sound of murmuring wings
    thunders across the sky
    a starling murmuration
    an avian ballet overhead
    ten thousand prima ballerinas
    in continuous synchronized motion
    swooping, twisting, swirling, diving,
    forming a moving dark cloud
    that widens and narrows
    continuously changing its shape
    as it billows across the sky
    resembling the thick black clouds
    of smoke, soot, ash and gas
    that spew from the smokestack
    of the nearby power plant
    blackening the sky and choking up
    the air with a lingering fetid stench

    a murmurating cloud of starlings
    thousands of synchronized flapping wings
    a mesmerizing spectacle
    choreographed with elegance and grace
    as they fly over the power plant
    ten thousand starlings
    in unison gasp for breath

    In Loving Memory Of

    Sun, 2017-06-25 11:02

    I remember
    before the
    the obituary
    people dressed
    in black
    your final

    I recall
    a time when
    were made
    to be kept
    living was

    There was no
    in loving memory of
    in fact
    to be frank
    I never knew then
    the precise date
    of your birthday

    You had a great
    sense of humor
    but strayed away
    from ingenuity

    We all thought
    that after the death
    of your brother
    you would have
    walked the other way

    I miss you
    you died
    just like him
    living life
    in a stamp bag
    and for that
    you’ve become
    just another cliché

    Sliced Echoes

    Sun, 2017-06-25 11:01

    Shattered heart of an unfulfilled love
    the imperiled song devoid of empathy
    blistered iced essence wafts at twilight
    dodging streetlamps on Second Street
    wipe bloody shoes on the back of pants
    patiently wait for a soiled dove parade
    Lick the shaft after slicing the throat.
    voices in my head mimic the vulture
    moving upstairs through paper dolls
    loving the blade as it devours a soul
    sharp is the edge of an obsidian knife
    stalking lilacs throughout the darkness.
    Swirling chimera ends in silent screams
    a rancid cities dance with sliced echoes.

    The Earth Wept

    Sun, 2017-06-25 11:01

    The day the earth had cried in deep despair
    my soul was struck and stuck in time’s tight grip,
    I heard the bells of distant churches blare
    and felt as though I was a sunken ship.
    The roaring faintly sounds of torn faces
    gathered like leaves bundled near the street side,
    mothers and children of diverse races
    peering through yellow tape to see who died.
    A young and lifeless teen lay cold to waste
    the Law had made the call to blast his brain,
    fall’s moon had brought the gloom and ghostly fate,
    the mouth opened wide and screamed out his name.
    The tomb awaits to feast and eat what’s left,
    The beast is bullet, the bullet is death.

    France Has No Evidence of Chemical Weapons’ Usage

    Fri, 2017-06-23 19:19

    The French president Emmanuel Macron, in an interview with El Pais (22 June 2017), said that the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power is no longer a priority in resolving the Syrian crisis.

    “France no longer sees the displacement of Assad as a priority for anything as well as I do not see who could become his legitimate successor,” Macron said.

    President Emmanuel Macron (center), in an interview with El Pais. Jean-Christophe Marmara

    The French president also called on countries to concentrate on fighting terrorism. He stressed it is necessary to work out an entirely new plans of action in Syria. Special attention, he said, must be paid to the allies of Assad since effectively fighting the threat of terrorism requires the active participation of all the parties — especially Russia.

    During the interview, Makron criticized Barack Obama for not keeping promises. Namely, that the former U.S. President had declared a tough response in case Assad would cross the so-called Red Line. “If the evidence of the use of chemical weapons arose,… and we knew who used it and where this weapon came from, France will respond immediately by carrying out airstrikes,” Macron said.

    The president of France also hinted that his country is ready to launch air strikes on Syria without U.S. support.

    The second question dealt with how the world community could accuse Assad then. Emmanuel Macron stated that there are still no clear reasons for this.

    As early as in 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had pointed out an absence of evidence of the Syrian president’s involvement with chemical weapon attacks.

    Palestine: Another Desperate Cry for Help

    Fri, 2017-06-23 18:09

    The National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCCOP) has just issued a final plea for help in the form of an open letter to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement. It is signed by over 30 organisations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza and can be read in full here.

    The problem is well known to everyone who’s paying attention. The letter recaps for us:

    We are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unlawful Balfour declaration, intensified through the Nakba [Palestinian ‘catastrophe’] and the influx of refugees, followed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza and the fragmentation of our people and our land through policies of isolation and confiscation, and the building of Jewish-only settlements and the Apartheid Wall.

    A hundred years later and there is still no justice! Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule…. Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leader’s callings – Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality.

    The letter harks back to the Amman Call of 2007.

    We are concerned that ten years later the situation is worse…. the Amman Call did not achieve its goal of a just peace and we must ask ourselves today – why?

    Concern is also expressed at Israel’s “systemic assault on Palestinian creative resistance” (by which they mean BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions), and on their partners worldwide who use BDS to persuade Israel to end the occupation.

    While we are grateful for the ‘costly solidarity’ articulated in the Amman Call and exercised by many churches around the world, we are concerned that some churches have weakened their positions in the last ten years as a result of pressure. Many still hide behind the cover of political neutrality, not wishing to offend their religious dialogue partners.

    So now they ask us to do the following:

    1. Call things as they are: recognize Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law and the UN ESCWA report which said: “Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people”. They are concerned that States and churches continue dealing with Israel as if the situation were normal, ignoring the reality of occupation, discrimination and daily deaths. Churches united to end apartheid in South Africa, the WCC playing a pivotal role, and they are expected to do the same again in Palestine
    2. Unequivocally condemn the Balfour declaration as unjust, and demand the UK asks forgiveness and compensates the Palestinian people for their losses. Unfortunately Zionist stooges in high places, like Theresa May, have said they will be celebrating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration “with pride” and inviting Mr Netanyahu along for the fun.
    3. Take the strongest possible stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and favours one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant.
    4. Take a stand against religious extremism and any attempt to create a religious state in Palestine or the region.
    5. Challenge our religious dialogue partners, and withdraw from the partnership if they won’t condemn the occupation.
    6. Encourage church leaders and pilgrims to visit Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities using Palestinian travel agencies, not Israeli.
    7. In response to Israel’s war on BDS, defend the Palestinians’ right to resist non-violently, and support economic measures that pressure Israel to stop the occupation.  Go further and include sport, cultural and academic measures until Israel complies with international law and UN resolutions.
    8. Create lobby groups in defence of Palestinian Christians.
    9. Urgently create a strategy within the WCC, like the programme “To Combat Racism”, to co-ordinate lobbying, advocacy and other activities aimed at achieving justice and peace and maintaining the presence of the Palestinian Christians.

    “We fully grasp the pressure church leaders are facing here and abroad not to speak the truth, and it is because of this that we are raising this call,” says the NCCOP.

    Their message ends with these ominous words:

    Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. The current status-quo is unsustainable. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land.

    As I’m writing news has come in of a legal victory against the UK Government for trying to stifle BDS. The Government recently issued guidance to stop divestment campaigns against Israeli and international firms implicated in Israel’s violations of international law, and to protect the UK’s defence industry. Pension holders, for example, could have been forced into investing in companies complicit in human rights abuses contrary to their conscience and beliefs.

    Thanks to action by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign the court held that the Government had acted improperly by seeking to use pension law to pursue its own foreign and defence policy.  Parts of the guidance are now held to be unlawful and no longer applicable to local government in their pension decisions.

    Other last-gasp appeals

    The Amman Call mentioned earlier was issued exactly ten years ago at the WCC’s International Peace Conference “Churches together for Peace and Justice in the Middle East” held in Amman, Jordan. It contained a number of imperatives.

    • Enough is enough. No more words without deeds. It is time for action.
    • The Churches are part of the conflict, because they cannot remain silent while there is still suffering.
    • There is no military solution to the conflict, UN resolutions are the basis for peace and the Geneva conventions are applicable to the rights and responsibilities of the affected people.
    • Palestinians have the right of self-determination and the right of return.
    • Jerusalem must be an open, accessible, inclusive and shared city for the two peoples and three religions.
    • Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal, and constitute an obstacle to peace, and Israel’s “Separation Barrier” is a grave breach of international law and must be removed.

    The Kairos Document of 2009 called itself a “cry of hope in the absence of all hope”. They said they had “reached a dead end” in the tragedy of the Palestinian people and the decision-makers “content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it”. The faithful were asking: What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and in the Arab world doing? What is the Church doing? “The problem is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the Church.”

    Kairos told the international community to stop practising “double standards” and start implementing international resolutions. “Selective application of international law threatens to leave us vulnerable to a law of the jungle. It legitimizes the claims by certain armed groups and states that the international community only understands the logic of force.” So Kairos was calling for a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel – not as a revenge tactic but action to reach a just and definitive peace.

    It also urged churches to revisit the fundamentalist positions that support the evil policies imposed on the Palestinian people, and to stop providing theological cover for the injustices they suffer.

    Local action

    These heart-rending pleas are all very well but churches are hard to mobilise. Some have flirted with BDS but only after much internal wrangling. Others have allowed themselves to be put off by interference from their interfaith partners.

    What can we ordinary mortals do?

    Well, I pop into churches randomly and ask what links they have with the Holy Land. They usually stare at me in blank amazement and an awkward silence follows. I therefore recommend a national campaign to visit all churches throughout the land and ask that same question. Shame them.

    But you never quite know when you’re up against the ‘enemy within’ – the Christian Zionist. Many readers will remember The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism by the Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches in Jerusalem in 2006.

    It says among other things:

    • We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message.
    • We reject the alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organizations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States [add the UK] that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine.
    • We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that support these policies as they promote racial exclusivity and perpetual war.
    • We call upon all Churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land.
    • We call upon all people to reject Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others.
    • We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation.
    • And, of course, Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. Don’t anyone forget that.

    Memorise it.

    Did you ever hear any of the 26 Church of England bishops sitting in the House of Lords roundly condemn the British government’s unshakable support for the rogue regime in Israel that’s causing all this misery? No, they’re scared to death of ruffling the feathers of their ‘inter-faith dialogue’ partners and being branded antisemitic. And yes, the Church does have its fearless heroes but they are few and far between and not always tolerated. The Anglican Church by and large doesn’t give a damn about their brethren in the Holy Land or the military jackboot on their necks. And, by extension, they don’t give a four-x whether, in another 10 years, there will be any Christians left in the place where Christianity was born. No, maybe they will care, but by then it will be too late.

    If I had my way every clergyman and every political leader calling him/herself a Christian would have the Jerusalem Declaration tattooed on their rump.

    I’d like to invite some of them to spend a week with priests in the front line in Jenin, Nablus or Hebron for a real taste of life under brutal Israeli occupation; then queue for hours at daybreak with Palestinian workers in the obscene human holding pens at the Bethlehem checkpoint as they struggle to get to work… and home again; then watch Israeli bulldozers evict Palestinian families and destroy their homes for no good reason; then join Gaza fishermen as they try to earn a living while getting shot at in their own waters by Israeli gunboats; then stay with a Gaza family in the rubble, experience living with only 2 hours’ electricity a day, with the kids going to school in shifts and studying by candlelight; then sit down with Hamas ministers to learn what it’s like running this tiny, overcrowded enclave after 10 years of cruel blockade; then visit Gaza’s hospitals to see first-hand the crisis in medical equipment and spares; then watch the groups of young, uniformed Israeli gunslingers swaggering through the Old City of Jerusalem making that beautiful place so ugly….

    The opportunities to learn the nasty truth about today’s Holy Land are endless.

    And when they return home…. who knows, they might just feel pricked to do something about it. At least they could ensure every parish in England twins itself with a parish in the West Bank to offer solidarity and provide moral and material support.

    A Capitalist Inferno

    Fri, 2017-06-23 13:31

    Unsurprisingly, and not unreasonably, many people are looking for heads to roll as a result of the terrible fire that destroyed Grenfell Tower in London. It killed as yet unknown numbers of people, at least seventy nine so far. It was a fire that should never have happened. An excellent documentary about the tragedy by Panorama revealed that for the last few years many warnings had been given to the owners of the building, Kensington and Chelsea Council, warnings that fire precautions were inadequate and a tragedy waiting to happen, warnings which were all but totally ignored. At this moment in time the only head to roll is that of Nicholas Holgate, the CEO at the council – an employee.

    It would seem that the rapid spread of the fire was due to a type of cladding that was applied to the outside of the building about a year ago. Apparently the cladding is a type that’s banned in the USA and much of Europe because of its flammable properties and, according to Chancellor Phillip Hammond, it’s banned here too; but that didn’t stop the council using it, or failing to remove it. Presumably other suitable, fireproof, materials are available. Presumably they’re much more expensive.

    A lot of the righteous anger has been directed at Theresa May, as the ultimate figurehead leader carrying the can. But the fact is that the tragedy had little to do with May, and that her resignation would be less than useless, because the real culprit would then escape scot-free.

    The fire was obviously a terrible, avoidable, tragedy. Some may be saying it was just a horrible accident, and we should move on. But what was not an accident, and cannot possibly be dismissed, was the total lack of state support for the surviving residents. What support there was, and it was truly heart-warming to see, came entirely from a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy and goodwill from local residents, supplying food, water, clothing, comfort. This was multiracial, multicultural, humane, compassionate Britain at its very best. But if the state did anything at all to immediately help the survivors (apart from the heroic efforts of the emergency services) it was very difficult to see. Where was the army? Where was “COBRA”?

    The real perpetrator of this tragedy is a thing called capitalism, the economic policy of all Tory politicians – and some misguided Labour MPs too. Capitalism has always placed profit before people, and it always will. It’s useless having token heads roll, whether they belong to Nicholas Holgate or Theresa May. These are just sacrificial lambs, distracting attention away from the real villain. Capitalism is to blame, with its murderous austerity, cost-cutting corners, and profiteering millionaires, together with the Tory MPS and mainstream media who defend and promote it. But in the end, there’s no escaping the fact that the responsibility for this manmade tragedy, and many others like it – like illegal wars and the closing of Accident and Emergency departments all over the country – ultimately lies with those who keep voting for capitalist politicians.

    Election Interference Hypocrisy

    Fri, 2017-06-23 10:28

    If a guy does something bad to someone else, but then complains later when another person does that same thing to him, what do we say? Stop being a hypocrite. Either you change tact or you got what you deserved.

    Does the same moral logic apply to countries?

    Purported Russian meddling in US, French and other elections has received significant attention recently. “Russian meddling abroad underscores need for electoral reform in Canada” declared a Rabble.ca headline this week while CBC noted “Russian attempts to infiltrate U.S. election systems found in 21 states: officials”. An earlier Globe and Mail headline stated “Russia was warned against U.S. election meddling: ex-CIA head” while a Global News story noted “Canada should worry about Russian interference in elections: former CSIS head.”

    Interference in another country’s election is an act of aggression and should not happen in a just world so these accusations deserve to be aired and investigated. But, how can one take the outrage seriously when the media commentators who complain about Russia ignore clear-cut Canadian meddling elsewhere and the decades-long history of US interference in other countries’ elections around the world, including in Canada.

    Ottawa has interfered in at least one recent Ukrainian election. Canada funded a leading civil society opposition group and promised Ukraine’s lead electoral commissioner Canadian citizenship if he did “the right thing” in the 2004-05 poll. Ottawa also paid for 500 Canadians of Ukrainian descent to observe the elections. Three years after Globe and Mail reporter Mark MacKinnon explained:

    [Canadian ambassador to the Ukraine, Andrew Robinson] began to organize secret monthly meetings of western ambassadors, presiding over what he called ‘donor coordination’ sessions among 20 countries interested in seeing Mr. [presidential candidate Viktor] Yushchenko succeed. Eventually, he acted as the group’s spokesman and became a prominent critic of the Kuchma government’s heavy-handed media control. Canada also invested in a controversial exit poll, carried out on election day by Ukraine’s Razumkov Centre and other groups that contradicted the official results showing Mr. Yanukovich [winning].

    Canada has also interfered aggressively in Haitian elections. After plotting, executing and consolidating the 2004 coup against Jean Bertrand Aristide’s government, Canadian officials interceded in the first election after the coup. In 2006 Canada’s then-chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, led a team of Canadian observers to Haiti for elections that excluded the candidate – Father Gérard Jean Juste – of Haiti’s most popular political party Fanmi Lavalas. With the country gripped by social upheaval after widespread fraud in the counting, including thousands of ballots found burned in a dump, Kingsley released a statement claiming, “the election was carried out with no violence or intimidation, and no accusations of fraud.” Chair of the International Mission for Monitoring Haitian Elections, Kingsley’s statement went on to laud Jacques Bernard, the head of the electoral council despite the fact that Bernard had already been widely derided as corrupt and biased even by other members of the coup government’s electoral council.

    In the 2010 election Ottawa intervened to bring far-right president Michel Martelly to power (with about 16% of the voter, since the election was largely boycotted). Canada put up $6 million for elections that excluded Fanmi Lavalas from participating. After the first round, our representatives on an Organization of American States Mission helped force the candidate the electoral council had in second place, Jude Celestin, out of the runoff. The Center for Economic and Policy Research explained, “the international community, led by the U.S., France, and Canada, has been intensifying the pressure on the Haitian government to allow presidential candidate Michel Martelly to proceed to the second round of elections instead of [ruling party candidate] Jude Celestin.” Some Haitian officials had their U.S. visas revoked and there were threats that aid would be cut off if Martelly’s vote total wasn’t increased as per the OAS recommendation.

    Half of the electoral council agreed to the OAS changes, but half didn’t. The second round was unconstitutional, noted Haïti Liberté’s Kim Ives, as “only four of the eight-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) have voted to proceed with the second round, one short of the five necessary. Furthermore, the first round results have not been published in the journal of record, Le Moniteur, and President Préval has not officially convoked Haitians to vote, both constitutional requirements.”

    The absurdity of the whole affair did not stop the Canadian government from supporting the elections and official election monitors from this country gave a thumbs-up to this farcical exercise in “democracy”. Describing the fraudulent nature of the elections, Haiti Progrès explained “the form of democracy that Washington, Paris and Ottawa want to impose on us is becoming a reality.”

    Washington has, of course, interfered in hundreds of elections in dozens of countries, including Italy, France, Greece, Chile, Ecuador, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Australia and, yes, Canada.

    You haven’t heard about that one?

    During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis the Kennedy administration wanted Ottawa’s immediate and unconditional support in putting the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) on high alert. Diefenbaker hesitated, unsure if Washington was telling him the full story about Soviet/Cuban plans or once again bullying the small island nation.

    Not happy with Diefenbaker’s attitude during the Cuban Missile Crisis or his ambivalence towards nuclear weapons in Canada, President John F. Kennedy worked to precipitate the downfall of his minority Conservative government. Kennedy preferred Lester Pearson’s Liberals who criticized Diefenbaker on Cuba and were willing to accept nuclear-armed Bomarc missiles.

    “In the fall of 1962,” notes Peter McFarlane in Northern Shadows: Canadians and Central America, “the State Department began to leak insulting references about Diefenbaker to the U.S. and Canadian press.” Articles highly critical of the Canadian prime minister appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek and other major US media outlets. On January 3 the outgoing commander of NATO, US General Lauris Norstad, made a surprise visit to Ottawa where he claimed Canada would not be fulfilling her commitments to the north Atlantic alliance if she did not acquire nuclear warheads. Diefenbaker believed the US general came to Canada “at the behest of President Kennedy” to set the table “for Pearson’s conversion to the United States nuclear policy.”

    A future prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, concurred. He asked:

    Do you think that General Norstad, the former supreme commander of allied forces in Europe, came to Ottawa as a tourist on January 3 to call publicly on the Canadian government to respect its [nuclear] commitments? Do you think it was by chance that Mr. Pearson, in his speech of January 12, was able to quote the authority of General Norstad? Do you think it was inadvertent that, on January 30, the State Department gave a statement to journalists reinforcing Mr. Pearson’s claims and crudely accusing Mr. Diefenbaker of lying? … you believe that it was by coincidence that this series of events ended with the fall of the [Diefenbaker] government on February 5?

    A State Department official, Willis Armstrong, described Kennedy’s attitude towards the March 1963 Canadian election: “He wanted to intervene and make sure Pearson got elected. It was very evident the president was uptight about the possibility that Pearson might not win.” Later Kennedy’s Secretary of State Dean Rusk admitted “in a way, Diefenbaker was right, for it was true that we preferred Mike Pearson.”

    During the 1963 election campaign Kennedy’s top pollster, Lou Harris, helped Pearson get elected prime minister. Kennedy backed Harris’ move, though he opposed an earlier request for the pollster to help British Labour leader Harold Wilson, which Harris then declined. Since Harris was closely associated with the US president the Liberals called Kennedy’s pollster by a pseudonym.

    Washington may have aided Pearson’s campaign in other ways. Diefenbaker wondered if the CIA was active during the 1963 election while External Affairs Minister Howard Green said a US agent attended a couple of his campaign meetings in BC.

    To Washington’s delight, Pearson won the election and immediately accepted nuclear-armed Bomarc missiles.

    The lesson? Perhaps Washington and Ottawa should treat other countries in the same way they wish to be treated. Perhaps it is time for a broader discussion about election meddling.

    Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen

    Fri, 2017-06-23 09:21

    Charred, lifeless and brutal, the hollowed out remains of Grenfell Tower in west London screams of the human agony inflicted when, on 14th June, the building became an inferno.

    Whilst there are various theories about what triggered the fire – dodgy wiring, a faulty fridge, a gas leak – what is clear is that this disaster was not an accident, it was the consequence of a social housing policy dating back to the 1980’s, systematic neglect, social injustice and the ongoing war being waged on the poorest members of British society by the Conservative government. And this time the result is not just low pay, second-rate education and housing, lack of opportunities, increased anxiety and depression, but murder; families torn to pieces, lives destroyed.

    Deep sadness shrouds the whole area, and, coming as it does on the back of a spate of recent atrocities, distress and a sense of collective bewilderment pervade the country.

    The initial shock of the disaster has morphed into contained anger as the level of official incompetence and apathy becomes increasingly clear. Residents’ warnings of the risks of fire were repeatedly ignored by The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) who own the building and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization (KCTMO); the most insistent residents – two of whom are now dead – were bullied and threatened with “legal action for defamation” by KCTMO, the company responsible for the management of the building, The Independent reports. This attitude is widespread, the Radical Housing Group (RHG) makes clear that “the recent history of social housing is one of contempt for council tenants and denigration of council housing…the underlying causes of the Grenfell tragedy are deeply economic and political.”

    The list of factors that led to this disaster is long and intertwined, rooted in the poisonous ground of commercialization, social division and official complacency.

    There were no sprinklers installed. This is compulsory in buildings over 30 meters tall built after 2007, and retro-fitting has been repeatedly recommended in high rise flats built before then, but fearful of deterring commercial developers no doubt the Government failed to make the retro-fitting of sprinklers mandatory; in fact, fewer than 1% of council tower blocks in England are fitted with sprinklers. The building was serviced by only one flight of stairs in and out, stairwells were cluttered with rubbish, and in an £8.6 million refurbishment last year, highly flammable plastic cladding, which is banned in buildings above 18 meters in height, was fitted to the outside and overlooked during a series of council inspections. It served no purpose other than a cosmetic one and on the night of the fire allowed the flames to spread rapidly upwards from the fourth floor. The fitting of sprinklers throughout Grenfell Tower would have added an extra £200,000 to the recent renovations, non-flammable cladding a mere £5,000.

    At the time of writing the number of those that lost their lives stands at 79; some are questioning if the true figure is being released. Given that there could have been up to 600 people or more in the tower (we will never know the exact figure), and fire enveloped it within 15 minutes, the fatalities are probably in the hundreds. Scotland Yard is conducting what they describe as a “far-reaching” criminal investigation into how the fire started, how it spread and how the Tower was maintained, the absence of fire measures and the refurbishment.

    Survivors are being housed in temporary accommodation and are reportedly receiving £10 a day from the council to live on. Response from the local authority and government agencies has been appalling: there has been no coordination of the largely community led relief operation and no overall organization. Whilst council tenants made up the majority of residents, private renters, homeowners, and subtenants lived in Grenfell, including many migrants and asylum seekers, many of whom don’t trust officials and are not coming forward to access support, including accommodation, for fear of immigration issues. Some, having survived the nightmare of the fire and lost everything they owned, are now reported to be sleeping on the streets.

    Neglect and Incompetence

    The building, with 120 flats over 24 floors, is owned by RBK&C (the smallest borough in London), the richest borough in the country with financial reserves of around £300 million – up from £167 million the previous year. The huge stockpile has been created by under-spending on council activities including adult social services. In 2013/14, RBK&C under-spent by £30m; instead of reinvesting the money in public services, top rate council taxpayers were offered a £100 rebate. The council, Labor Councilor Robert Atkinson makes clear, is hoarding money “in non-election years only to give it back as a pre-election bribe immediately before a council election.”

    KCTMO manages the building; an unaccountable quasi-private company driven as all such groups are by profit. The residents group, Grenfell Action Group (GAG) has been highly critical of KCTMO for years and repeatedly highlighted health and safety risks in the building, including fire. In 2013 a major incident was ‘narrowly avoided’, when residents experienced power surges caused by faulty wiring. This, GAG claims, was covered up by KCTMO and the RBKC Scrutiny Committee “who refused to investigate the legitimate concerns of tenants and leaseholders”. As recently as November 2016 GAG wrote on their blog that the building was a disaster waiting to happen, saying they believed “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.” They go on to say, “Unfortunately, the Grenfell Action Group have reached the conclusion that only an incident that results in serious loss of life of KCTMO residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices that characterize the malign governance of this non-functioning organization.” Nobody listened, no action was taken, and now people have died, others are badly injured, hundreds are homeless and have lost everything.

    In March this year Labor councilor Judith Blackman, a member of the KCTMO board, passed on residents’ fears about the installation of gas pipes in stairwells. KCTMO said they would be boxed in with “fire rated protection” but this was not done. She also asked for an “independent safety adjudication of the building, but this was declined,” The Guardian reports. “I was treated like I was a nuisance,” she said. “I raised 19 complaints on behalf of individual residents. Every single time we were told that the board had satisfied itself that the fire safety was fine.”

    The responsibility for this disaster flows in a putrid line from KCTMO to Kensington Council onto Westminster and government policies over decades: the commercialization of public services, the cutting of funds to local authorities and emergency services – consistently praised but numbers cut, stations closed, wages frozen – the marginalization of the poorest sections of society and gross neglect at the root of this tragedy. Manifold causes that are themselves effects of a destructive, divisive approach to governance, in which financial considerations and not human concerns or social justice determines action, policies and attitudes.

    Gentrification and Social Cleansing

    Grenfell Tower forms part of the Lancaster Road West Estate in Notting Hill Gate. An area that, like many other parts of the capital, has been subjected to a gentrification assault accompanied by systematic social cleansing that goes back decades and has intensified over the last 10­–15 years.

    In 1980 Margaret Thatcher introduced the ‘right-to-buy’ policy, allowing council tenants the chance to buy their homes. Since then the number of council homes in Britain has been reduced by over two million and the poison of neoliberal market economics has infiltrated all areas of social policy, including housing. Council property – flats, houses, libraries, school playgrounds, youth clubs etc. are regarded as commercial assets to be sold off and profited from. Council homes have been removed from local authority ownership and control and handed over to ‘arms-length’ management companies – like KCTMO – and/or transferred to housing associations. Local authorities, RHG relate, have “become distanced from housing provision, central government funding for social housing has been reduced, and the involvement of powerful private companies has increased.”

    The commercialization of social housing has resulted in a lack of accountability, acute shortage of council accommodation, a derisory attitude towards social housing tenants and inflated rents. Throughout London, commercial and residential prices have gone through the roof, whilst cuts to housing benefit by the Conservative Government have meant that those unemployed or on low incomes cannot cover rents.

    As areas are redeveloped people living in estates like Grenfell Tower are being pushed further and further out of the city, their concerns disregarded, their voices ignored, their lives regarded as irrelevant. Private companies dominate regeneration projects; firms are given valuable land, in exchange for their work, on which to build expensive flats that only the wealthy can afford. Public spaces are absorbed, becoming private commodities, local residents’ concerns are routinely disregarded, the city becomes a corporate space, city living more and more expensive and the poor are discarded, unwelcome.

    Social diversity and colour are gradually being sucked out of the area around Grenfell and a bland homogenized ghetto for the rich created. Pubs and low cost cafes where people would traditionally have met have been closed down to make way for expensive restaurants, ritzy spas, delis that nobody can afford and designer cafes. All of which are aimed firmly at the wealthy residents who own the £X million flats and houses two streets away from the estate and can afford the exorbitant prices.

    Some fear that the council could use this disaster as an opportunity to intensify its assault on the poor, demolish the tower and build another luxury high-rise. All Grenfell residents must be offered long-term affordable accommodation within their local area or an area of their choosing, to this end and to address the shortage of council property in the borough (there are approximately 3,000 people waiting for social housing in Kensington) the council should buy private property and turn it into council housing. News that 68 flats have now been bought in Kensington by the Corporation of London to house survivors is welcome; however, the details of any offers need to be scrutinized and who it applies to, victims consulted and listened to, their wishes honored.

    Whilst they may not have lit the match, this disaster is the result of long-term socio-economic policies pursued by successive Governments that discriminate against the poor, of the abdication of responsibility by local government and criminal negligence by KCTMO.

    How America Armed Terrorists in Syria

    Fri, 2017-06-23 08:20

    Free Syrian Army fighters in Saqba, a suburb of Damascus (Photo: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0)

    Three-term Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, has proposed legislation that would prohibit any U.S. assistance to terrorist organizations in Syria as well as to any organization working directly with them. Equally important, it would prohibit U.S. military sales and other forms of military cooperation with other countries that provide arms or financing to those terrorists and their collaborators.

    Gabbard’s “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” challenges for the first time in Congress a U.S. policy toward the conflict in the Syrian civil war that should have set off alarm bells long ago: in 2012-13 the Obama administration helped its Sunni allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar provide arms to Syrian and non-Syrian armed groups to force President Bashar al-Assad out of power. And in 2013 the administration began to provide arms to what the CIA judged to be “relatively moderate” anti-Assad groups—meaning they incorporated various degrees of Islamic extremism.

    That policy, ostensibly aimed at helping replace the Assad regime with a more democratic alternative, has actually helped build up al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise al Nusra Front into the dominant threat to Assad.

    The supporters of this arms-supply policy believe it is necessary as pushback against Iranian influence in Syria. But that argument skirts the real issue raised by the policy’s history. The Obama administration’s Syria policy effectively sold out the U.S. interest that was supposed to be the touchstone of the “Global War on Terrorism”—the eradication of al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates. The United States has instead subordinated that U.S. interest in counter-terrorism to the interests of its Sunni allies. In doing so it has helped create a new terrorist threat in the heart of the Middle East.

    The policy of arming military groups committed to overthrowing the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in September 2011, when President Barack Obama was pressed by his Sunni allies—Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—to supply heavy weapons to a military opposition to Assad they were determined to establish. Turkey and the Gulf regimes wanted the United States to provide anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to the rebels, according to a former Obama administration official involved in Middle East issues.

    Obama refused to provide arms to the opposition, but he agreed to provide covert U.S. logistical help in carrying out a campaign of military assistance to arm opposition groups. CIA involvement in the arming of anti-Assad forces began with arranging for the shipment of weapons from the stocks of the Gaddafi regime that had been stored in Benghazi. CIA-controlled firms shipped the weapons from the military port of Benghazi to two small ports in Syria using former U.S. military personnel to manage the logistics, as investigative reporter Sy Hersh detailed in 2014. The funding for the program came mainly from the Saudis.

    A declassified October 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report revealed that the shipment in late August 2012 had included 500 sniper rifles, 100 RPG (rocket propelled grenade launchers) along with 300 RPG rounds and 400 howitzers. Each arms shipment encompassed as many as ten shipping containers, it reported, each of which held about 48,000 pounds of cargo. That suggests a total payload of up to 250 tons of weapons per shipment. Even if the CIA had organized only one shipment per month, the arms shipments would have totaled 2,750 tons of arms bound ultimately for Syria from October 2011 through August 2012. More likely it was a multiple of that figure.

    The CIA’s covert arms shipments from Libya came to an abrupt halt in September 2012 when Libyan militants attacked and burned the embassy annex in Benghazi that had been used to support the operation. By then, however, a much larger channel for arming anti-government forces was opening up. The CIA put the Saudis in touch with a senior Croatian official who had offered to sell large quantities of arms left over from the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. And the CIA helped them shop for weapons from arms dealers and governments in several other former Soviet bloc countries.

    Flush with weapons acquired from both the CIA Libya program and from the Croatians, the Saudis and Qataris dramatically increased the number of flights by military cargo planes to Turkey in December 2012 and continued that intensive pace for the next two and a half months. The New York Times reported a total 160 such flights through mid-March 2013. The most common cargo plane in use in the Gulf, the Ilyushin IL-76, can carry roughly 50 tons of cargo on a flight, which would indicate that as much as 8,000 tons of weapons poured across the Turkish border into Syria just in late 2012 and in 2013.

    One U.S. official called the new level of arms deliveries to Syrian rebels a “cataract of weaponry.” And a year-long investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed that the Saudis were intent on building up a powerful conventional army in Syria. The “end-use certificate” for weapons purchased from an arms company in Belgrade, Serbia, in May 2013 includes 500 Soviet-designed PG-7VR rocket launchers that can penetrate even heavily-armored tanks, along with two million rounds; 50 Konkurs anti-tank missile launchers and 500 missiles, 50 anti-aircraft guns mounted on armored vehicles, 10,000 fragmentation rounds for OG-7 rocket launchers capable of piercing heavy body armor; four truck-mounted BM-21 GRAD multiple rocket launchers, each of which fires 40 rockets at a time with a range of 12 to 19 miles, along with 20,000 GRAD rockets.

    The end user document for another Saudi order from the same Serbian company listed 300 tanks, 2,000 RPG launchers, and 16,500 other rocket launchers, one million rounds for ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns, and 315 million cartridges for various other guns.

    Those two purchases were only a fraction of the totality of the arms obtained by the Saudis over the next few years from eight Balkan nations. Investigators found that the Saudis made their biggest arms deals with former Soviet bloc states in 2015, and that the weapons included many that had just come off factory production lines. Nearly 40 percent of the arms the Saudis purchased from those countries, moreover, still had not been delivered by early 2017. So the Saudis had already contracted for enough weaponry to keep a large-scale conventional war in Syria going for several more years.

    By far the most consequential single Saudi arms purchase was not from the Balkans, however, but from the United States. It was the December 2013 U.S. sale of 15,000 TOW anti-tank missiles to the Saudis at a cost of about $1 billion—the result of Obama’s decision earlier that year to reverse his ban on lethal assistance to anti-Assad armed groups. The Saudis had agreed, moreover, that those anti-tank missiles would be doled out to Syrian groups only at U.S. discretion. The TOW missiles began to arrive in Syria in 2014 and soon had a major impact on the military balance.

    This flood of weapons into Syria, along with the entry of 20,000 foreign fighters into the country—primarily through Turkey—largely defined the nature of the conflict. These armaments helped make al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, al Nusra Front (now renamed Tahrir al-Sham or Levant Liberation Organization) and its close allies by far the most powerful anti-Assad forces in Syria—and gave rise to the Islamic State.

    By late 2012, it became clear to U.S. officials that the largest share of the arms that began flowing into Syria early in the year were going to the rapidly growing al Qaeda presence in the country. In October 2012, U.S. officials acknowledged off the record for the first time to the New York Times that “most” of the arms that had been shipped to armed opposition groups in Syria with U.S. logistical assistance during the previous year had gone to “hardline Islamic jihadists”— obviously meaning al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, al Nusra.

    Al Nusra Front and its allies became the main recipients of the weapons because the Saudis, Turks, and Qataris wanted the arms to go to the military units that were most successful in attacking government targets. And by the summer of 2012, al Nusra Front, buttressed by the thousands of foreign jihadists pouring into the country across the Turkish border, was already taking the lead in attacks on the Syrian government in coordination with “Free Syrian Army” brigades.

    In November and December 2012, al Nusra Front began establishing formal “joint operations rooms” with those calling themselves “Free Syrian Army” on several battlefronts, as Charles Lister chronicles in his book The Syrian Jihad. One such commander favored by Washington was Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi, a former Syrian army officer who headed something called the Aleppo Revolutionary Military Council. Ambassador Robert Ford, who continued to hold that position even after he had been withdrawn from Syria, publicly visited Oqaidi in May 2013 to express U.S. support for him and the FSA.

    But Oqaidi and his troops were junior partners in a coalition in Aleppo in which al Nusra was by far the strongest element. That reality is clearly reflected in a video in which Oqaidi describes his good relations with officials of the “Islamic State” and is shown joining the main jihadist commander in the Aleppo region celebrating the capture of the Syrian government’s Menagh Air Base in September 2013.

    By early 2013, in fact, the “Free Syrian Army,” which had never actually been a military organization with any troops, had ceased to have any real significance in the Syria conflict. New anti-Assad armed groups had stopped using the name even as a “brand” to identify themselves, as a leading specialist on the conflict observed.

    So, when weapons from Turkey arrived at the various battlefronts, it was understood by all the non-jihadist groups that they would be shared with al Nusra Front and its close allies. A report by McClatchy in early 2013, on a town in north central Syria, showed how the military arrangements between al Nusra and those brigades calling themselves “Free Syrian Army” governed the distribution of weapons. One of those units, the Victory Brigade, had participated in a “joint operations room” with al Qaeda’s most important military ally, Ahrar al Sham, in a successful attack on a strategic town a few weeks earlier. A visiting reporter watched that brigade and Ahrar al Sham show off new sophisticated weapons that included Russian-made RPG27 shoulder-fired rocket-propelled anti-tank grenades and RG6 grenade launchers.

    When asked if the Victory Brigade had shared its new weapons with Ahrar al Sham, the latter’s spokesman responded, “Of course they share their weapons with us. We fight together.”

    Turkey and Qatar consciously chose al Qaeda and its closest ally, Ahrar al Sham, as the recipients of weapons systems. In late 2013 and early 2014, several truckloads of arms bound for the province of Hatay, just south of the Turkish border, were intercepted by Turkish police. They had Turkish intelligence personnel on board, according to later Turkish police court testimony. The province was controlled by Ahrar al Sham. In fact Turkey soon began to treat Ahrar al Sham as its primary client in Syria, according to Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

    A Qatari intelligence operative who had been involved in shipping arms to extremist groups in Libya was a key figure in directing the flow of arms from Turkey into Syria. An Arab intelligence source familiar with the discussions among the external suppliers near the Syrian border in Turkey during those years told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius that when one of the participants warned that the outside powers were building up the jihadists while the non-Islamist groups were withering away, the Qatari operative responded, “I will send weapons to al Qaeda if it will help.”

    The Qataris did funnel arms to both al Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham, according to a Middle Eastern diplomatic source. The Obama administration’s National Security Council staff proposed in 2013 that the United States signal U.S. displeasure with Qatar over its arming of extremists in both Syria and Libya by withdrawing a squadron of fighter planes from the U.S. airbase at al-Udeid, Qatar. The Pentagon vetoed that mild form of pressure, however, to protect its access to its bases in Qatar.

    President Obama himself confronted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his government’s support for the jihadists at a private White House dinner in May 2013, as recounted by Hersh. “We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria,” he quotes Obama as saying to Erdogan.

    The administration addressed Turkey’s cooperation with the al Nusra publicly, however, only fleetingly in late 2014. Shortly after leaving Ankara, Francis Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 2011 through mid-2014, told the Daily Telegraph of London that Turkey had “worked with groups, frankly, for a period, including al Nusra.”

    The closest Washington came to a public reprimand of its allies over the arming of terrorists in Syria was when Vice President Joe Biden criticized their role in October 2014. In impromptu remarks at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, Biden complained that “our biggest problem is our allies.” The forces they had supplied with arms, he said, were “al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

    Biden quickly apologized for the remarks, explaining that he didn’t mean that U.S. allies had deliberately helped the jihadists. But Ambassador Ford confirmed his complaint, telling BBC, “What Biden said about the allies aggravating the problem of extremism is true.”

    In June 2013 Obama approved the first direct U.S. lethal military aid to rebel brigades that had been vetted by the CIA. By spring 2014, the U.S.-made BGM-71E anti-tank missiles from the 15,000 transferred to the Saudis began to appear in the hands of selected anti-Assad groups. But the CIA imposed the condition that the group receiving them would not cooperate with the al Nusra Front or its allies.

    That condition implied that Washington was supplying military groups that were strong enough to maintain their independence from al Nusra Front. But the groups on the CIA’s list of vetted “relatively moderate” armed groups were all highly vulnerable to takeover by the al Qaeda affiliate. In November 2014, al Nusra Front troops struck the two strongest CIA-supported armed groups, Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front on successive days and seized their heavy weapons, including both TOW anti-tank missiles and GRAD rockets.

    In early March 2015, the Harakat Hazm Aleppo branch dissolved itself, and al Nusra Front promptly showed off photos of the TOW missiles and other equipment they had captured from it. And in March 2016, al Nusra Front troops attacked the headquarters of the 13th Division in northwestern Idlib province and seized all of its TOW missiles. Later that month, al Nusra Front released a video of its troops using the TOW missiles it had captured.

    But that wasn’t the only way for al Nusra Front to benefit from the CIA’s largesse. Along with its close ally Ahrar al Sham, the terrorist organization began planning for a campaign to take complete control of Idlib province in the winter of 2014-15. Abandoning any pretense of distance from al Qaeda, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar worked with al Nusra on the creation of a new military formation for Idlib called the “Army of Conquest,” consisting of the al Qaeda affiliate and its closest allies. Saudi Arabia and Qatar provided more weapons for the campaign, while Turkey facilitated their passage. On March 28, just four days after launching the campaign, the Army of Conquest successfully gained control of Idlib City.

    The non-jihadist armed groups getting advanced weapons from the CIA assistance were not part of the initial assault on Idlib City. After the capture of Idlib the U.S.-led operations room for Syria in southern Turkey signaled to the CIA-supported groups in Idlib that they could now participate in the campaign to consolidate control over the rest of the province. According to Lister, the British researcher on jihadists in Syria who maintains contacts with both jihadist and other armed groups, recipients of CIA weapons, such as the Fursan al haq brigade and Division 13, did join the Idlib campaign alongside al Nusra Front without any move by the CIA to cut them off.

    As the Idlib offensive began, the CIA-supported groups were getting TOW missiles in larger numbers, and they now used them with great effectiveness against the Syrian army tanks. That was the beginning of a new phase of the war, in which U.S. policy was to support an alliance between “relatively moderate” groups and the al Nusra Front.

    The new alliance was carried over to Aleppo, where jihadist groups close to Nusra Front formed a new command called Fateh Halab (“Aleppo Conquest”) with nine armed groups in Aleppo province which were getting CIA assistance. The CIA-supported groups could claim that they weren’t cooperating with al Nusra Front because the al Qaeda franchise was not officially on the list of participants in the command. But as the report on the new command clearly implied, this was merely a way of allowing the CIA to continue providing weapons to its clients, despite their de facto alliance with al Qaeda.

    The significance of all this is clear: by helping its Sunni allies provide weapons to al Nusra Front and its allies and by funneling into the war zone sophisticated weapons that were bound to fall into al Nusra hands or strengthen their overall military position, U.S. policy has been largely responsible for having extended al Qaeda’s power across a significant part of Syrian territory. The CIA and the Pentagon appear to be ready to tolerate such a betrayal of America’s stated counter-terrorism mission. Unless either Congress or the White House confronts that betrayal explicitly, as Tulsi Gabbard’s legislation would force them to do, U.S. policy will continue to be complicit in the consolidation of power by al Qaeda in Syria, even if the Islamic State is defeated there.

  • First published at The American Conservative.
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