Saturday, March 28, 2015

Israel loves war and its nukes

Israel has had nuclear weapons for the last 50 years. It is not a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty and not subject to international regulation or inspection. Israel has been known to invade and attack other countries in the region at will.

The best way for other nations in the area to protect themselves, and maintain any national sovereignty would be for Israel to not have the nukes, or to have nukes themselves. If Iran had nukes then Israel wouldn't be able to threaten them or invade, or conduct airstrikes.

So if Iran had nukes would it be so bad? They have the same rights as any other nation. But they aren't even trying to get nukes. What's the big deal?

The leaders of the Iranian state are not insane. They want to live and have been far less bellicose than Israel. The hysteria about "if Iran gets nukes they will attack Israel" is propaganda. The same people who said Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and will attack the USA and Israel) any minute now are the ones behind the hysteria about Iran's getting nukes (any day now...for the last 20 years).

Netanyahu is afraid that peace might break out between Israel and Iran (and the USA..especially). So he has to keep the pot boiling and he has his fifth column working in the US to avoid the dreaded prospect of stability in the mideast.

Endless war is what the state of Israel craves. Up to now it has kept it bathed in money and political support from the US. Can the gravy train be in danger? Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

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

from Tomgram
By Tom Engelhardt

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

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

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

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

1. 1% Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. The Demobilization of the American People

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

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

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

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

The Birth of a New System

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What's Going on in Seattle? Is Kshama Sawant Really Caving in to the Democrats?

MARCH 25, 2015

What's Going on in Seattle?
Is Kshama Sawant Really Caving in to the Democrats?
A good fighter, a friend and a longtime activist, MB re-posted an article on FaceBook that attacks Kshama Sawant, Seattle’s socialist City Councilmember,for attending a fund-raiser for Larry Gossett, a member of the King County Council and a Democrat. The underlying issues are seriousenough to deserve a thorough response.

Larry Gossett has a more interesting history than many might know. He was a leader of the Black Panther Party in Seattle in the 60’s, eventually settling in as Director of the Central Area Motivation Project until his election, as part of the Rainbow Coalition, to the King County Council. Until this year, he was the Chairperson of the Martin Luther King Celebration Committee, a group that has organized, in a very non-sectarian fashion, a march on MLK Day for the last 33 years. I know, having worked on this committee for about 9 of these years. This committee is responsible, among other things, for the re-naming of King County in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gossett was one of the few Black people with any power in Seattle who treated the Socialist Workers Party decently back in the day, renting his facility to us and signing on for reasonable things we brought to him from time to time.

I think it is fair to say that Gossett is a non-sectarian Democrat. One of few. And he is the best known and most widely respected Black political activist and civil rights leader in Seattle.

What is vital to this discussion, and what is not mentioned by any of those whining about Kshama’s attending his fundraiser, is that Gossett has endorsed her re-election campaign. That’s right, you read it correctly: Larry Gossett has endorsed Kshama Sawant’s candidacy for City Council Position #3.

This comes at a time when the Democrats have fielded not one, not two, but THREE candidates against Sawant: Rod Hearne, Morgan Beach, and Pamela Banks. These are all well-known Democratic Party types who have had important and notable jobs in Seattle. None of them is a vanity candidate. Rod Hearne is a prominent Gay Rights Activist, Morgan Beach is a well-known bourgeois feminist and Pamela Banks in the current President of the Urban League.

The strategy of all three candidates is an identity politics – based approach to carve off a portion of Sawant’s supporters: gays, women, and Black people. So far, fortunately, none of these candidacies have taken off. Pamela Banks, the most recent to declare candidacy, is unable to distinguish herself from Sawant on any substantive political issue — because Sawant has been out in front of all the most fundamental issues of livability in Seattle: minimum wage, affordable housing, gay bashing, and more. Banks defended her candidacy by saying she is more about the telephone than the microphone, and that is likely true enough. Banks intends to roam the corridors of power while Sawant intends to stay in the streets, employing a movement-building strategy as she has done every day of her tenure on the Seattle City Council.

This is one of the reasons she is the best known of all the candidates for City Council — her readiness to get in the face of power, even as she combines that with her own power on the Council. This is totally unnerving to the ruling class in Seattle and no doubt a factor in the large number of retiring City Council members this year. It’s just no fun anymore now that Kshama is there to call them out and do what’s right, like when she refused to attend (and denounced as a waste of money) a weekend getaway lovefest at a nearby resort with the local bourgeois, and instead stayed in Seattle to get community input on improving the upcoming city budget.

Or when she roused fellow City Councilmember and octogenarian Jean Godden from her slumbers and got her to sign onto an amendment to the City Council’s budget to immediately give all Seattle City Employees a minimum wage of $15/hr. This meant that since Sawant’s amendment had three Council members co-signing, it could only be removed from the budget by a majority vote of the whole council and they lacked the stomach to go on record opposing a measly $15/hr for city gardeners and so forth. That was a cool $1million plus for the workers of Seattle and a great example of how to actually stalk the corridors of power.

So, Larry Gossett, a sitting King County Councilmember has broken ranks with the party hierarchy and endorsed Sawant. Not only is this treason, it gives all sorts of other Democrats license to do the same

Pramila Jayapal, a newly-elected Washington State Senator from Seattle, has also endorsed Sawant. While Gossett is near the end of his career, Jayapal won election just last November as a Democrat and will probably be there for a while.

Jayapal is also a progressive with a non-sectarian history. She was probably more responsible than anyone for the huge size of the February 2003 antiwar march of 70,000 people, the largest non-sports gathering in the history of Seattle. How did that happen? When the usual suspects, the liberal Democrats, the closeted CPers, the liberal types from the Church Council of Greater Seattle got together with Hate Free Zone, led by Pramila, to respond to the threat of war with Iraq, she insisted that the Not in Our Name people be included in the initial core organizers of the march. That opened the door for the inclusion of ANSWER a little later.

This was due to the fact that Not in Our Name had been very active in the at-the-time very hot issue of immigrant rights and had done some good mobilizing work, despite it being a front for the despised Revolutionary Communist Party. Not wishing to offend or maybe lose Hate Free Zone, the rest of them gritted their teeth and allowed NION into the coalition, which meant that all the fundamental peace forces in the city were in the same coalition for once. As head of fundraising for that event, I got a seat at the table so I am relating this from personal experience. Pramila’s non-sectarian approach surfaced again this year when she endorsed Sawant – she bucked the Democratic Party’s strategy, and supported what was good for the community, which is Sawant’s re-election.

So, my dear friend M, this is why you are so dead wrong on this. Kshama is in the fight of her life, and it is a fight that everyone in America, especially those of YOUR and MY stripe ought to support, with time, with effort and with money. Kshama went to Larry Gossett’s campaign kickoff rally. Big deal. It was AT MOST a minor courtesy to a person who defied his party’s general wisdom and endorsed her. Now, true enough, Larry Gossett is not about to be defeated because of this endorsement. But it counts. Objectively, Gossett’s and Jayapal’s endorsement of Kshama Sawant is a split in the Democratic Party’s campaign to bury Sawant. So far from denouncing her, we should congratulate Kshama for her good sense in reaching out to Democrats who can be carved away from the Die Trotskyite Bitch campaign of the Democratic Party, whose admitted spiritual leader Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has let it be known that Sawant’s defeat is his No 1 priority in the City Council elections.

And let it also be said that Sawant has not backed off to the slightest degree in her opposition to Gossett’s main political focus of late, to wit, his sponsoring of a new Juvenile Detention Center (read: jail) for Seattle. So far from adapting to Larry Gossett, Sawant went to the MLK Celebration Committee IN PERSON (she was the only elected politician to do so) and asked to speak at the MLK rally, at which she delivered a spirited and wonderful speech denouncing the idea of a new jail, and counterpoised instead spending the vast funds about to be squandered on concrete for actual programs within the jail to help incarcerated youth. So much for bending to the politics of the Democratic Party.

David McDonald is a bus driver, political activist and photographer in Seat

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Can You Say "Blowback" in Spanish?

from Tomgram

The Failed War on Drugs in Mexico (and the United States)
By Rebecca Gordon

They behead people by the hundreds. They heap headless, handless bodies along roadsides as warnings to those who would resist their power. They have penetrated the local, state, and national governments and control entire sections of the country. They provide employment and services to an impoverished public, which distrusts their actual government with its bitter record of corruption, repression, and torture. They seduce young people from several countries, including the United States, into their murderous activities.

Is this a description of the heinous practices of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria? It could be, but as a matter of fact it’s not. These particular thugs exist a lot closer to home. They are part of the multi-billion-dollar industry known as the drug cartels of Mexico. Like the Islamic State, the cartels' power has increased as the result of disastrous policies born in the U.S.A.

There are other parallels between IS and groups like Mexico's Zetas and its Sinaloa cartel. Just as the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya fertilized the field for IS, another U.S. war, the so-called War on Drugs, opened new horizons for the drug cartels. Just as Washington has worked hand-in-hand with and also behind the backs of corrupt rulers in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, so it has done with the Mexican government. Both kinds of war have resulted in blowback -- violent consequences felt in our own cities, whether at the finish line of the Boston Marathon or in communities of color across the country.

In Mexico, the U.S. military is directly involved in the War on Drugs. In this country, that "war" has provided the pretext for the militarization of local police forces and increased routine surveillance of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.

And just as both the national security state and the right wing have used the specter of IS to create an atmosphere of panic and hysteria in this country, so both have used the drug cartels' grotesque theater of violence to justify their demonization of immigrants from Latin America and the massive militarization of America’s borderlands.

The War in Mexico

If there was an official beginning to Mexico's war on drugs, it would have to be considered the election of Felipe Calderón as the country’s president in 2006. The candidate of the right-wing Partido Acción Nacional, the National Action Party (PAN), Calderón was only the second Mexican president in 70 years who did not come from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). His predecessor, Vicente Fox, had been the first.

It was Calderón who, with encouragement and assistance from the United States, changed Mexico's war on drugs from a metaphor into the real thing, in which guns and grenades would fuel the deaths of more than 60,000 Mexicans through 2012.

The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, admits that another 27,000 Mexicans were murdered in the first year of his presidency. At least another 25,000 have been disappeared since 2007. It was Calderón who brought the Mexican military fully into the fight against drugs, transforming an ineffective policing policy into a full-scale shooting war with the cartels. At least 50,000 military personnel have been deployed.

In addition to ordinary citizens, journalists and politicians have been particular targets in this war. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that murders of Mexican reporters have increased dramatically since 2006. Among those whose killers have been positively identified, 69% died at the hands of the drug cartels, and at least 22% were killed by government or military personnel.

Wikipedia lists over 100 politicians who have lost their lives in Mexico's war on drugs. That list does not include a woman named Aide Nava González, whose headless body was dumped this month on a road in Guerrero state. Nava was contending for the Partido Revolución Democrática, the Democratic Revolution Party, slot on the ballot in the town of Ahuacuotzingo. Her husband, the former mayor, had been murdered there last year. A note from Los Rojos, a local drug gang, was left with Nava's body. "This is what will happen," it read, "to anyone who does not fall in line, fucking turncoats."

Guerrero is the home of Ayotzinapa, a town where 43 teachers-in-training once attended a rural teachers college. All 43 “disappeared” last September during a demonstration in the neighboring town of Iguala. Their arrest by police, and apparent subsequent murder at the hands of a local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, was one of the few stories of Mexican suffering to break into the U.S. mainstream media last year. The mayor of Iguala has since admitted that he instructed the police to hand the students over to the gang and has been arrested, along with his wife. The town’s police chief is still on the run.

Like the "war on terror" globally, Mexico’s war on drugs has created endless new pretexts for government repression, which has its own lengthy history in that country. That history includes the long-remembered police murders of some 300 students, among the thousands protesting in Mexico City's Plaza de las Tres Culturas a couple of weeks before the Summer Olympics began in 1968. Juan Méndez, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Torture, wrote in his 2014 mission report on Mexico:

"The National Human Rights Commission recorded an increase in the number of complaints of torture and ill-treatment since 2007 and reported a peak of 2,020 complaints in 2011 and 2,113 in 2012, compared with an annual average of 320 in the six years prior to 2007. Between December 2012 and July 2014, the Commission received 1,148 complaints of violations attributable to the armed forces alone."

According to Méndez, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number of torture cases in the country in any year, because there is no national registry that records such complaints. Nor is everyone who was tortured by representatives of the government likely to report their suffering to that same government.

What is not difficult to pinpoint is the nature of the torture. Méndez notes the "disturbing similarities" in the complaints of those tortured. The police and the military are regularly reported to use a combination of "punches, kicks, and beatings with sticks; electric shocks through the application of electrical devices such as cattle prods to their bodies, usually their genitals; asphyxiation with plastic bags; waterboarding; forced nudity; suspension by their limbs; [and] threats and insults."

The purpose of such torture is clear as well. As Mendez reports, it’s "to punish and to extract confessions or incriminating information." A 2008 change to the Mexican constitution makes it easier to do this: under this policy of pre-trial detention (arraigo in Spanish), suspected drug traffickers can be held for up to 80 days without charge. According to the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, "Supposedly, arraigo is used as a means to investigate suspected criminals, but in practice, it is used as a kind of public scrutiny that allows more time for the authorities to determine whether the detained is guilty or innocent." It's much easier to extract a confession when you have electric cattle prods and waterboarding at your disposal.

Washington Fights a “War” in Mexico

Who pays for Mexico's war on drugs? You won’t perhaps be too surprised to learn that the United States foots a major part of the bill. Between 2008 and 2014, Congress has appropriated $2.4 billion dollars to fight the cartels, as part of the Mérida Initiative, a "security cooperation agreement" between the U.S. and Mexican governments. That money supports a failed war in which tens of thousands have been killed and thousands more tortured.

U.S. involvement, however, goes far beyond money. Along with the publicly acknowledged Mérida Initiative, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) signed secret agreements with the Fox and Calderón administrations without the knowledge or consent of the Mexican congress. These openly violated the Mexican constitution, which reserves to that congress the right to approve agreements with foreign governments, as well as the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Crime, which requires that activities carried out by one country inside another be approved by the appropriate agency in the country where those activities take place.

Under these secret agreements, U.S. DEA agents met repeatedly with high-level members of particular drug cartels, especially the Sinaloa group, to obtain information about rival organizations. Informants served as go-betweens in contacts between the DEA and "El Chapo" Guzmán, the head of that cartel. Guzmán was arrested in 2014 by the Mexican government. The newspaper El Universal conducted a year-long investigation in which its reporters documented the extent and effects of this illegal cooperation. The DEA arranged to dismiss drug trafficking charges that were pending in the United States against some of their Sinoloa Cartel informants. In other words, it allowed the cartels with which it worked to continue business -- and murder -- as usual.

In at least one case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued multiple re-entry visas to informants, allowing them to bring significant quantities of drugs into the United States with impunity. In fact, it appears that, in order to maintain the flow of information, U.S. officials took sides in the drug war that devastated the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez, killing an estimated 10,500 people. With tacit U.S. permission, the Sinaloa Cartel was able to defeat the rival Juárez Cartel.

Seventy percent of the guns used in Mexico's drug wars also come from this country. Most are purchased at one or another of the 6,700 licensed firearms sales outlets along the U.S.-Mexico border. The University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute estimates that, between 2010 and 2012, about 253,000 firearms were bought each year for transfer to Mexico. And most of them made it across the border. The Institute reports that "Mexican authorities have seized roughly 12.7% of the total annual trade" in weapons. U.S. interdiction efforts account for a measly 2% of those seized.

And not all of the weapons that ended up in Mexico did so against the wishes of the U.S. government. In the debacle known as "Fast and Furious," the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) allowed "more than 2,000 weapons, including hundreds of AK-47-type semi-automatic rifles and .50 caliber rifles," to "walk" across the border and into the hands of the Mexican cartels. Its ostensible purpose was to follow the guns in hopes that they would lead to the arrest of high-level cartel leaders. But relevant agencies of the Mexican government were never informed about the operation, and it seems that there was no actual effort to track the weapons once they crossed the Mexican border. The weapons turned up at crime scenes in both Mexico and the United States. On December 14, 2010, near the Mexican border in Arizona, one of them killed Brian Terry, a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

ATF wasn't the only agency involved in "Fast and Furious." Personnel from ICE, the Department of Homeland Security, the DEA, and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona also participated, along with the FBI and the IRS.

Nor was the Mexican government entirely informed, although it seems clear that one man, Eduardo Medina Mora, knew about it. A former director of Mexico's equivalent of the CIA, Medina is considered the "legal architect" of that country’s drug war. He was Mexico's attorney general when Fast and Furious got underway. By 2010, he'd been removed from that post (possibly because one of his top deputies was arrested for taking bribes from the cartels) and appointed ambassador to the United Kingdom. Later, he served as ambassador to the U.S. until, in early March 2015, President Peña Nieto barely won Senate approval of Medina's appointment to a 15-year term as head of Mexico's Supreme Court. Mexicans who still remember Fast and Furious were outraged.

The Pentagon and CIA are also involved in Mexico in significant ways. Since at least 2011, the Pentagon has deployed both piloted aircraft and drones in the Mexican war on drugs. The CIA has also sent operatives to do intelligence gathering. And without specifying which agencies are responsible for such activities, the New York Times reports that "the United States has trained nearly 4,500 new [Mexican] federal police agents and assisted in conducting wiretaps, running informants, and interrogating suspects.” Furthermore, the "Pentagon has provided sophisticated equipment, including Black Hawk helicopters.”

In 2011, the State Department recalled career diplomat Earl Anthony Wayne from Kabul. He was then serving as deputy ambassador to Afghanistan and coordinating with the NATO-led occupation forces there. His new assignment based on his counterinsurgency experience? Ambassador to Mexico. In 2013, the U.S. Army opened a special-ops center in Colorado, according to the El Paso Times, "to teach Mexican security forces how to hunt drug cartels the same way special operations teams hunt al-Qaida." Because that worked out so well in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Drug War Comes Home (Along With Plenty of Blowback)

All in all, the U.S. drug war in Mexico has been an abject failure. In spite of high-profile arrests, including in 2014 Joaquín "El Chapo” Guzmán, who ran the Sinaloa group, and in 2015 Servando "La Tuta" Gómez, head of the Knights Templar Cartel in Michoacán, the cartels seem as strong as ever. They may occasionally split and reassemble, but they are still able to move plenty of product, and reap at least $20 billion a year in sales in the United States. In fact, this country remains the world's premier market for illegal drugs.

The cartels are responsible for the majority of the methamphetamine sold in the United States today. Since 2006, when a federal law made it much harder to buy ephedrine and pseudoephedrine in this country, the cartels have replaced small-time U.S.-based meth cookers. The meth they produce is purer than the U.S. product, apparently because it's made with purer precursor chemicals available from China. The other big product is heroin, whose quickly rising consumption seems to be replacing the demand for cocaine in the United States. On the other hand, marijuana legalization appears to be cutting into the cross-border traffic in that drug.

The Washington Post reports that almost 9% of Americans “age 12 or older -- 22.6 million people -- are current users of illegal drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration." That represents a one-third increase over the 6.2% in 1998. It takes a lot of infrastructure to move that much product.

And that's where U.S.-based gangs come in. Urban gangs in the United States today are not the Sharks and Jets of West Side Story. Certainly, there are still some small local groups formed by young people looking for family and solidarity on the streets. All too often, however, today's gangs represent the well-run distribution arm of the international drug trade. In Chicago alone, 100,000 people work in illegal drug distribution, selling mostly into that city's African-American community. Gang membership is skewing older every year, as gangs transform from local associations to organized, powerfully armed criminal enterprises. Well over half of present gang members are adults now. The communities where they operate live in fear, caught between the gangs that offer them employment while threatening their safety and militarized police forces they do not trust.

Just like U.S. military adventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Mexico war on drugs has only left a larger problem in place, while producing blowback here at home. A particularly nasty example is the cartels' use of serving U.S. military personnel and veterans as hit men here in the United States. But the effects are far bigger than that. The DEA told the Washington Post that Mexican cartels are operating in more than 1,200 U.S. cities. In all those cities, the failed war on drugs has put in prison 2.3 million people -- in vastly disproportionate numbers from communities of color -- without cutting demand by one single kilo. And yet, though that war has only visibly increased the drug problem in the same way that the war on terror has generated ever more terror organizations, in both cases there’s no evidence that any other course than war is being considered in Washington.

Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States. She teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is a member of the War Times/Tiempo de Guerras collective. You can contact her through the Mainstreaming Torture website.

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

Copyright 2015 Rebecca Gordon

Friday, March 20, 2015

American Music Historian Samuel Charters Dies at 85


TALLINN, Estonia — Samuel Charters, a vital historian of American blues, folk and jazz who helped introduce a generation of music lovers to Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell and other performers, has died. He was 85.

His widow, the author Ann Charters, said Thursday her husband died the day before in Stockholm of a bone marrow disorder after a serious illness.

Along with such musicologists as Alan Lomax and Harry Smith, Charters helped bring mainstream attention to once-obscure musicians from the South and Appalachia and make possible the blues revival of the 1960s. His first book, "The Country Blues," came out in 1959 alongside an album of recordings by Johnson, McTell, Sleepy John Estes and others that reached a small, but influential base of fans. Bob Dylan would include versions of two songs compiled by Charters, Bukka White's "Fixin' to Die Blues" and Tommy McClennan's "New Highway 51," on his debut album, and later wrote a song about McTell. By the mid-'60s, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and other rock stars were routinely performing blues songs.

"Sam Charters brought the country blues alive, and with great intelligence," said historian Saul Wilentz. "His book was a touchstone at once enlightening and mysterious; the record, along with Harry Smith's collection and a few others, was a thrilling informant."

Charters, a native of Pittsburgh, moved to the Scandinavian country in 1970 to work as a producer for the Swedish record company Sonet Records.

A dual Swedish-U.S. citizen, he was best known for his books on the history of the blues and jazz, although his subjects also extended to Swedish fiddlers and poetry.

From early on in his life, Charters became enamored of blues and jazz. In 1951, he moved to New Orleans and lived there for almost a decade.

"He felt that the black musicians of New Orleans needed more recognition," Ann Charters told The Associated Press from Stockholm. "What people often don't know is that he published many books of poetry and five novels. He thought of himself as a poet as well as a music historian."

His last book, "A Trumpet Around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz," was published six years ago. He also wrote poetry and novels, produced records, and translated, among others, poems of 2011 Nobel literature prize winner Tomas Transtromer into English.

In 1959 Charters married his second wife, Ann, a leading authority on the Beat Generation who wrote the first biography of Jack Kerouac, in 1973. Together the couple was involved with the U.S. civil rights movement and became ardent critics of the Vietnam War.

Ann Charters said they were disillusioned with the U.S. political scene and moved to Sweden, which she described as "a neutral country."

His career continued in Sweden, where he became a respected figure among blues, folk and jazz musicians. He received Swedish citizenship in 2002.

Charters' funeral is scheduled to be held next week in Sweden, Ann Charters said. He is survived by a son from an earlier marriage and two daughters.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Netanyahu Deserves the Israeli People, and They Deserve Him

By Gideon Levy

March 18, 2015 "ICH" - "Haaretz" - The first conclusion that arose just minutes after the announcement of the exit polls was particularly discouraging: The nation must be replaced. Not another election for the country's leadership, but general elections to choose a new Israeli people – immediately. The country urgently needs that. It won’t be able to stand another term for Benjamin Netanyahu, who emerged last night as the man who will form the next government.
If after six years of nothing, if after six years of sowing fear and anxiety, hatred and despair, this is the nation's choice, then it is very ill indeed. If after everything that has been revealed in recent months, if after everything that has been written and said, if after all this, the Israeli phoenix succeeded in rising from the ashes and getting reelected, if after all this the Israeli people chose him to lead for another four years, something is truly broken, possibly beyond repair.

Netanyahu deserves the Israeli people and they deserve him. The results are indicative of the direction the country is headed: A significant proportion of Israelis has finally grown detached from reality. This is the result of years' worth of brainwashing and incitement. These Israelis voted for the man who will lead the United States to adopt harsh measures against Israel, for the man whom the world long ago grew sick of. They voted for the man who admitted to having duped half the world during his Bar-Ilan speech; now he has torn off his mask and disavowed those words once and for all. Israel said "yes" to the man who said "no" to a Palestinian state. Dear Likud voters, what the hell do you say "yes" to? Another 50 years of occupation and ostracism? Do you really believe in that?

On Tuesday the foundations were laid for the apartheid state that is to come. If Netanyahu succeeds in forming the next government in his spirit and image, then the two-state solution will finally be buried and the struggle over the character of a binational state will begin. If Netanyahu is the next prime minister, then Israel has not only divorced the peace process, but also the world. Piss off, dear world, we're on our own. Please don't interfere, we're asleep, the people are with Netanyahu. The Palestinians can warm the benches at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the Israel boycotters can swing into high gear and Gaza can wait for the next cruel attack by the Israeli army.

The battle for all these has yet to be officially decided. The next prime minister will be crowned by Moshe Kahlon and the heads of other small parties. At the time of this writing, Kahlon has yet to declare his intention. The ball is in these parties' court; they will decide if Netanyahu continues. Most of them despise him, but it's doubtful whether they will have the courage to turn their backs on the public. That will be their test. That will be the test of their courage and integrity. Moshe Kahlon and Aryeh Dery, do you truly believe Netanyahu is better than Isaac Herzog for the society and social welfare you purport to care for? Does the country's decent and courageous president, Reuven Rivlin, believe Netanyahu will be a better prime minister than Herzog? There is a lot resting on his shoulders now – but the fact that a figure like Netanyahu and a party like Likud succeeded in maintaining power as the country's leading faction already says a great deal.

Netanyahu is threatening to surpass David Ben-Gurion as Israel's longest running leader. He is already in second place, and yet it's hard to think of one significant achievement on his part. The list of damage he has done is long. But he is the nation's, or much of the nation's, chosen one. That choice must be respected, even if it makes it difficult to hope for a good outcome. The only consolation is that another Netanyahu term will prompt the world to act. That possibility is our only refuge.

Gideon Levy is an Israeli journalist, writing opinion pieces and a weekly column for the newspaper Haaretz that often focus on the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. A notable journalist on the Israeli left, follow him on Twitter: @levy_haaretz

© 2015 Haaretz

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Netanyahu won, so now what?


So he won and I have to say I am relieved. There wll be no more endless cycles of pointless ‘negotiations’ with Israel pretending that some day it will agree to a two-state solution while continually escalating both settlement (colony) building and the maltreament of the Palestinians. Now everyone will see that the Palestinians were right all along and that Israel has never been a partner for negotiations.

There is no real political Left in Israel and if the other side got to form a government, all we would have seen is more of the same. Now we’ll see if the EU has the decency and conviction to enact proper sanctions. Then of course there is the US. The US Administration might stall for a while, but we’ll see if they have what it takes to do the right thing. Israel is no friend to the US and the sooner they realise it the better.

Israel is on a slippery slope of its own making. Get your popcorn, sit and watch. Israel is becoming more radicalised than ever before. Certainly much more than when I was growing up there. Of course I could be wrong — and I hope I am — but I think Israel’s pathological siege mentality will now become more pronounced and more evident to outsiders. Israel has for a long time been readying itself for when the time comes, to bunker down, live with austerity and give up the fancy lifestyle the country has become increasingly accustomed to in the last 20-25 years. They can do this.

Israel has always prepared itself psychologically and economically to being isolated. All that openness to the rest of the world that Israel has enjoyed increasingly in the last generation or so, and Israel’s acceptance by others, have always been seen as temporary in the eyes of most Israeli Jews. They had always expected it to end and had the mentality of ‘let’s enjoy it while it lasts and make the most of it while we can’. Fundamentally Israeli Jews believe that the world hates them because they are Jewish (in their mind it has nothing to do with colonialism or the Palestinians). So although Israel has brought its own situation upon itself, that is not how Israeli Jews see it. They believe things are ‘happening to them’ for no fault of their own. They expect isolation and have dropped all pretences to pander to the West and are behaving more in line now with their true nature. Even less radical people will become radicalised now in Israel. There will be even more propaganda and more brainwashing than ever before.

Netanyahu really does represent most Israeli Jews even though some of them do not like him. But the reasons they do not like him are not what you expect. Most Israeli Jews identify with Netanyahu’s perception and understanding of what the rest of the world is like and of the world’s relationship with Israel. After all Netanyahu is a product of Israeli society just like I was, and believe me, when you have that kind of psychology and that incredibly effective, powerful propaganda machine all around you, it is easy to believe that what you see is really how it is… Israeli Jews have always lived in a psychological ghetto and it’s that ghetto that I got out of back in 1991.

Life will get very difficult for Jews in Israel soon enough, and many with dual citizenship will abandon ship. Those who remain will be the die-hard fanatics and zealots who are dangerous because they might have the psychology of murder suicide. I believe that before it is over, things will get really bad there and extremely dangerous. Israel will become much more fanatic and extremist than ever before with a lot less inhibitions.

I am therefore worried about the Palestinians and wonder how much more of this they could possibly take and what they can expect in the next few months and years. Israel isolating itself is more dangerous for the Palestinians because world public opinion will no longer be a moderating factor on Israel’s behaviour. And believe it or not, it did have a moderating effect. What you have been seeing so far and what Palestinians have been experiencing is not yet the worst. Gaza gives you the idea of what Israel has in mind for all Palestinians.

So the message to those of us who support the Palestinians is to get ready to escalate our support. It is about to get very very tough. With Netanyahu at the helm the end of colonialism and occupation is nigh, but it is about to get a lot worse before it gets better.

About Avigail Abarbanel
Avigail Abarbanel was born and raised in Israel. She moved to Australia in 1991 and now lives in Scotland. She works as a psychotherapist in private practice and is an activist for Palestinian rights. She is the editor of Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012).
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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Most Dangerous Woman in America

Posted on Mar 15, 2015

By Chris Hedges

Kshama Sawant outside Seattle City Council chambers shortly before she was elected in November 2013. (AP / Ted S. Warren)

SEATTLE—Kshama Sawant, the socialist on the City Council, is up for re-election this year. Since joining the council in January of 2014 she has helped push through a gradual raising of the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Seattle. She has expanded funding for social services and blocked, along with housing advocates, an attempt by the Seattle Housing Authority to allow a rent increase of up to 400 percent. She has successfully lobbied for city money to support tent encampments and is fighting for an excise tax on millionaires. And for this she has become the bête noire of the Establishment, especially the Democratic Party.

The corporate powers, from Seattle’s mayor to the Chamber of Commerce and the area’s Democratic Party, are determined she be defeated, and these local corporate elites have the national elites behind them. This will be one of the most important elections in the country this year. It will pit a socialist, who refuses all corporate donations—not that she would get many—and who has fearlessly championed the rights of workingmen and workingwomen, rights that are being eviscerated by the corporate machine. The elites cannot let the Sawants of the world proliferate. Corporate power is throwing everything at its disposal—including sponsorship of a rival woman candidate of color—into this election in the city’s 3rd District.

Sawant’s fight is our own.


I met Sawant in a restaurant a block from City Hall in Seattle. She is as intense as she is articulate. Sawant, born in India, is a leader of the Socialist Alternative Party. She holds a doctorate in economics from North Carolina State University and before her election to the City Council was a professor at a community college. She knows that there will be no genuine reforms, let alone systemic change, without the building of radical mass movements and a viable third party. She is as familiar at Seattle street demonstrations, where she has been arrested, as she is in City Council hearings. If there is any hope left for the absurdist political theater that characterizes election campaigns it is in renegades such as Sawant.

“The idea that things have to get a lot worse to have some sort of awakening and bring about an alternative to this corrupt and defunct corporate political system is inaccurate,” she said to me. “What we need is a big surge for an independent working-class political alternative while people are experiencing a sense of confidence, after decades of bitter defeat. The $15-an-hour victory in Seattle is going nationwide. And while unions are under massive attack, as you see in Wisconsin with Scott Walker, there are also successful labor initiatives getting onto the ballot. Four states—two of them Republican states—increased the minimum wage last year. Occupy and the Black Lives Matter movement have radically shaken U.S. consciousness. Now is the time for us to strike.”

Sawant said it is incumbent upon socialists and the entire U.S. left to swiftly begin the task of building working-class political campaigns independent of the Democratic Party in order to create the space for a viable national party. Efforts to reform the Democratic Party, whose leaders are in the service of the corporate oligarchy, amount to pouring energy into “a black hole,” she said. The Democratic elite dominate Seattle government, and the Democratic elite, as they did with Ralph Nader, have declared war against Sawant. As long as she remains in office she will expose the leaders in the Democratic Party for who they are—corporate puppets.

Sawant believes that because of the presidency of Barack Obama—who has served corporate power, expanded imperial wars, carried out a massive assault on civil liberties and failed to address the needs of the mounting numbers who are unemployed or underemployed—many people, especially young people, are hungry for political alternatives to “the two big business parties.” Poll after poll, she pointed out, shows the American majority to be disgusted with the Congress. And she cited the problems of Chicago Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel in seeking re-election as evidence that even the very beginnings of movements by working people and communities of color can shake and weaken the Democratic Party establishment. “He was considered undefeatable,” she said of Emanuel. “But look now at his vulnerability. Look at the campaign ad he just put out saying, yes, I made mistakes, but I am a human being. Who could have imagined that kind of false humility from him? Even spending $15 million on a mayoral race and having President Obama come and campaign wasn’t enough to buy him an easy victory. This demonstrates the wide opening for the U.S. left to present a principled working-class alternative. This is why we need to begin that project now. It won’t be easy. But this moment is qualitatively different from the period when Ralph Nader ran. The consciousness of the American people has changed. Uprising is in the air.”

Sawant emphasized that the process of building a radical alternative will be long and difficult. The obstacles the Establishment will throw up to prevent such a movement will be numerous, costly and unscrupulous.

“We cannot have illusions,” Sawant said. “We want to win. But we also know that in one year we are not going to vanquish the money machine of the Democratic establishment. The goal of this campaign should be to launch a massive grass-roots effort nationwide, and to build on it after the election, something that Ralph Nader failed to do. We have to provide a place for people looking for something different, especially the younger generation. Any presidential campaign cannot be run as an end in itself. That will dishearten people. People know what is going to happen in 2016. It is going to be Hillary Clinton or some Republican. Our campaign needs to be a launching pad for something bigger. It needs to be about building a mass movement, a viable radical alternative. This is what is happening in Greece and Spain.”

Sawant proposed that the left prepare the ground for a new party that will be “broad-based, organized around democratic principles and have as its fundamental goal the mission of working with the labor movement, nonunionized workers and young activists of color.”

“It has to be 100 percent grass roots,” she said. It must be willing to “use the platform of the presidential campaign and other electoral campaigns to push the message of mass movements.” And, she stressed, it must never accept corporate money. This last condition, she said, “has to be non-negotiable.” The party, she added, “must not bow down to the pressure to endorse Democratic candidates against Republicans, which would completely undermine its independence and ultimately relegate it to the role of an enforcer for the Democrats, as the Working Families Party has become.”

Might there be a role for the Green Party in such a change? Sawant offered this assessment:

The Green Party and its activists need to be part of the effort towards a nationwide party for the working class

The Green Party has made some important contributions to the struggle against the Democrats’ lesser-evil politics. It has raised demands in the interests of workers, against corporate domination, against the war, and against climate change. One outstanding example is Gayle McLaughlin, who as Green Party mayor of the California city of Richmond, invited the fury of Wall Street banks with her valiant fight on behalf of ‘underwater’ homeowners.

But the party for the left, for the American working class, needs to go beyond the electoral arena and lead struggles and movements of low-wage workers, people of color and women. The Green Party has not often sought to do that. The problem is that if a party does not do that, it leaves the various social movements open to misleaders who channel the energy back towards the Democratic Party.

“In Socialist Alternative,” Sawant said, “any elected representative who runs has to pledge to only take the average worker’s wage. The City Council pays me nearly $120,000. I take home $40,000 after taxes. The rest goes into a solidarity fund. This idea should also be taken up in some form by the new party.”

“A campaign cannot be an end in itself,” she said. “If you take office you have to be accountable to the members of the party. You have to have actual meetings. People say they are Democrats, but when was the last time they were invited to a meeting and asked to vote on the policies to be taken up by the Democratic Party? The Democratic Party is utterly undemocratic—the party members and activists have essentially zero say over what their elected officials do once in power.”

A new party, she said, is essential if the corporate coup is to be reversed. And it needs to be formed soon.

“While young radicals correctly see the need for mass action, some have not yet made the vital link between mass movements and the need for alternative political structures,” she said. “We cannot get rid of capitalism without building a mass political organization as a tool to do that.”

“If a genuine alternative is not built,” Sawant said, “the Democratic establishment will continue to co-opt generation after generation of young people who are concerned about the need to fight the Republicans. Even the most radical youths end up implicitly defending capitalism when they accept the parameters of lesser evilism, as so many did with supporting Obama in 2008 and 2012.”

She contends that the end of the Cold War has left younger generations freer to explore and hear radical alternatives.

“Something important has changed,” she said. “The hostility to socialist ideas is not present now because we have a majority of young Americans who are experiencing the deep failures of capitalism. Red-baiting does not work on them. As a socialist, I have never experienced any hostility, except from the Establishment. This does not necessarily mean all those people who support us are socialist. But it means people are infuriated about income inequality, about the pillaging by the big banks. They are burning at the entrenched racial injustice in America. They want a solution to climate change. They are looking for something radically different.”

The call for a national party is, in the end, a call to educate. It is a call to put forth a program that offers an alternative to global capitalism. And it is a call to empower the citizenry to break the corporate stranglehold to make this alternative possible.

“We must convince people that we need an alternative and we must convince them about what that alternative is,” Sawant said. “We need to stand up for the hundreds of millions of lives devastated by global capitalism. The abuses we saw in 2008 will happen over and over again as long as capitalism survives. And it is our job to break the cycle of capitalist exploitation of people and the ecosystem and save ourselves. This will only come about if we organize mass movements, if we build a radical political party and if we refuse to accept a system designed to subject the immense majority to misery so that a minority can pile up untold wealth.”

Thursday, March 12, 2015


from The Intercept, Glen Greenwald

Photo of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro (Ariana Cubillos/AP).

The White House on Monday announced the imposition of new sanctions on various Venezuelan officials, pronouncing itself “deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents”: deeply concerned. President Obama also, reportedly with a straight face, officially declared that Venezuela poses “an extraordinary threat to the national security” of the U.S. — a declaration necessary to legally justify the sanctions.

Today, one of the Obama administration’s closest allies on the planet, Saudi Arabia, sentenced one of that country’s few independent human rights activists, Mohammed al-Bajad, to 10 years in prison on “terrorism” charges. That is completely consistent with that regime’s systematic and extreme repression, which includes gruesome state beheadings at a record-setting rate, floggings and long prison terms for anti-regime bloggers, executions of those with minority religious views, and exploitation of terror laws to imprison even the mildest regime critics.

Absolutely nobody expects the “deeply concerned” President Obama to impose sanctions on the Saudis — nor on any of the other loyal U.S. allies from Egypt to the UAE whose repression is far worse than Venezuela’s. Perhaps those who actually believe U.S. proclamations about imposing sanctions on Venezuela in objection to suppression of political opposition might spend some time thinking about what accounts for that disparity.

That nothing is more insincere than purported U.S. concerns over political repression is too self-evident to debate. Supporting the most repressive regimes on the planet in order to suppress and control their populations is and long has been a staple of U.S. (and British) foreign policy. “Human rights” is the weapon invoked by the U.S. Government and its loyal media to cynically demonize regimes that refuse to follow U.S. dictates, while far worse tyranny is steadfastly overlooked, or expressly cheered, when undertaken by compliant regimes, such as those in Riyadh and Cairo (see this USA Today article, one of many, recently hailing the Saudis as one of the “moderate” countries in the region). This is exactly the tactic that leads neocons to feign concern for Afghan women or the plight of Iranian gays when doing so helps to gin up war-rage against those regimes, while they snuggle up to far worse but far more compliant regimes.

Any rational person who watched the entire top echelon of the U.S. government drop what they were doing to make a pilgrimage to Riyadh to pay homage to the Saudi monarchs (Obama cut short a state visit to India to do so), or who watches the mountain of arms and money flow to the regime in Cairo, would do nothing other than cackle when hearing U.S. officials announce that they are imposing sanctions to punish repression of political opposition. And indeed, that’s what most of the world outside of the U.S. and Europe do when they hear such claims. But from the perspective of U.S. officials, that’s fine, because such pretenses to noble intentions are primarily intended for domestic consumption.

As for Obama’s decree that Venezuela now poses an “extraordinary threat to the national security” of the United States, is there anyone, anywhere, that wants to defend the reasonability of that claim? Think about what it says about our discourse that Obama officials know they can issue such insultingly false tripe with no consequences.

But what’s not too obvious to point out is what the U.S is actually doing in Venezuela. It’s truly remarkable how the very same people who demand U.S. actions against the democratically elected government in Caracas are the ones who most aggressively mock Venezuelan leaders when they point out that the U.S. is working to undermine their government.

The worst media offender in this regard is The New York Times, which explicitly celebrated the 2002 U.S.-supported coup of Hugo Chavez as a victory for democracy, but which now regularly derides the notion that the U.S. would ever do something as untoward as undermine the Venezuelan government. Watch this short video from Monday where the always-excellent Matt Lee of Associated Press questions a State Department spokesperson this week after she said it was “ludicrous” to think that the U.S. would ever do such a thing:

The real question is this: if concern over suppression of political rights is not the real reason the U.S. is imposing new sanctions on Venezuela (perish the thought!), what is? Among the most insightful commentators on U.S. policy in Latin America is Mark Weisbrot of Just Foreign Policy. Read his excellent article for Al Jazeera on the recent Obama decree on Venezuela.

In essence, Venezuela is one of the very few countries with significant oil reserves which does not submit to U.S. dictates, and this simply cannot be permitted (such countries are always at the top of the U.S. government and media list of Countries To Be Demonized). Beyond that, the popularity of Chavez and the relative improvement of Venezuela’s poor under his redistributionist policies petrifies neoliberal institutions for its ability to serve as an example; just as the Cuban economy was choked by decades of U.S. sanctions and then held up by the U.S. as a failure of Communism, subverting the Venezuelan economy is crucial to destroying this success.

As Weisbrot notes, every country in the hemisphere except for the U.S. and Canada have united to oppose U.S. sanctions on Venezuela. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) issued a statement in February in response to the prior round of U.S. sanctions on Venezuela that “reiterates its strong repudiation of the application of unilateral coercive measures that are contrary to international law.” This week, the chief of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) issued a statement announcing that “UNASUR rejects any external or internal attempt at interference that seeks to disrupt the democratic process in Venezuela.” Weisbrot compares Obama’s decree this week on Venezuela to President Reagan’s quite similar 1985 decree that Nicaragua was a national security threat to the U.S., and notes: “The Obama administration is more isolated today in Latin America than even George W. Bush’s administration was.”

If Obama and supporters want the government of Venezuela to be punished and/or toppled because they refuse to comply with U.S. dictates, they should at least be honest about their beliefs so that their true character can be seen. Pretending that any of this has to do with the U.S. Government’s anger over suppression of political opponents — when their closest allies are the world champions at that — should be too insulting of everyone’s intelligence to even be an option.

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US Preparing for Military Aggression on Venezuela

History shows that when the U.S. denounces a country, it is often a pretext for intervention and regime change.

Barack Obama, an ornamental figure in the White House, who was not able to impede a lunatic like Benjamin Netanyahu from addressing both houses of Congress to sabotage the talks with Iran on the country’s nuclear program, has received a strict order from the “military-industrial-financial” complex: he must create the conditions to justify a military aggression against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The presidential order issued hours ago, and broadcast by the White House press office, establishes that the country of Bolivar and Chavez is an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” and declares a “national emergency” to deal with that threat.

This type of declaration tends to precede military aggressions, either by its own hand, as was the case of the bloody invasion of Panama to overthrow Manuel Noriega in 1989, as well as the one issued in relation to Southeast Asia that culminated with the Indochina war, especially in Vietnam, starting in 1964. But it can also be the prelude to military operations of a different kind, in which the United States acts jointly with its European minions, grouped under NATO, and the region’s oil theocracies.

For example: the first Gulf War in 1991; or the Iraq War of 2003-2011, with the enthusiastic collaboration of Britain’s Tony Blair and Spain’s unpresentable Jose Maria Aznar; or the case of Libya in 2011, erected over the staged farce in Benghazi, where so-called “freedom fighters” — who later turned out were mercenaries recruited by Washington, London and Paris — were hired to overthrow Gadhafi and transfer control over the country’s oil riches to its masters.

More recent cases are those of Syria and, especially, Ukraine, where the much yearned for “regime change” (a euphemism to avoid talking about a coup) that Washington pursues ceaselessly to redesign the world — above all in Latin America and the Caribbean — in its image and likeness, has been achieved thanks to the invaluable cooperation of the European Union and NATO, and whose result has been a bloodbath that continues in Ukraine today.

Miss Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, was sent to Kiev’s Maidan Square by Mr. 2009 Nobel Peace Prize (aka President Obama) to express her solidarity with the demonstrators, including the bands of neo-Nazis that later would seize power by storm, through blood and fire, and to whom the kindly official was handing out bread and water bottles to quench their thirst, to demonstrate, with such an affectionate gesture, that Washington was, as always, on the side of liberty, human rights and democracy.

When a “rogue state” like the United States — which it is because of its systematic violations of international law — issues a threat like the one we are commenting on, it must be taken very seriously. Especially if one remembers the persistence of an old U.S. political tradition that consists of carrying out coups that serve as pretext for justifying its immediate military response.

It did so in 1898 when it made the U.S. cruiser Maine explode in Havana harbor, sending two thirds of its crew to the grave and provoking the indignation of North American public opinion, which propelled Washington to declare war on Spain. It did so again in Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, sacrificing 2,403 mariners and wounding another 1,178 in that infamous maneuver. It did so again in the Gulf of Tonkin incident to “sell” its war in Indonesia: the alleged North Vietnamese aggression against two U.S. cruisers — later unmasked as a CIA operation — which caused president Lyndon B. Johnson to declare a national emergency, and, a little later, war against North Vietnam. Maurice Bishop, in the small island of Grenada, was also considered a threat to U.S. national security in 1983, and was overthrown and liquidated by an invasion of U.S. Marines. And the suspicious 9/11 attack to launch the “War on Terrorism”? The history could extend itself indefinitely.

Conclusion: Nobody could be surprised if, in the following hours or days, Obama authorizes a secret operation of the CIA, or some other intelligence service, or maybe the armed forces themselves, against some sensitive U.S. target in Venezuela, for example the embassy in Caracas. Or begin some other deceitful operation against innocent civilians in Venezuela — as in the case of “terrorist attempts” that shook Italy- the murder of Aldo Moro in 1978, or the bomb in the Bologna train station in 1980 — to create panic and justify the Empire’s response in “restoring” human rights, democracy and public liberties. Years later it was discovered that these crimes were committed by the CIA.

Remember that Washington birthed the 2002 coup in Venezuela, maybe because it wanted to assure for itself the oil supply before attacking Iraq. Now it is in the process of a two-front war: Syria/Islamic State, and Russia, and also wants a secured energy rearguard. Serious, very serious. This calls for the active and immediate solidarity of South American governments, in individual fashion and through UNASUR and CELAC, and popular organizations and political forces in our Americas to denounce and stop this maneuver.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cornel West: Gaza Is the Hood on Steroids, Thanks to Israel

David Palumbo-Liu
February 25, 2015

“It’s ugly, it’s vicious, it’s brutal” describes Israel in Palestine — and why Gaza is “the hood on steroids” says Cornel West speaking with Stanford Professor David Palumbo-Liu about the divestment effort and Palestinian activism. The interview ranges from how the issue of Israel-Palestine is registering not only with young people, but also with older progressives and intellectuals, and about the linkages between civil rights struggles in the US and abroad.

Cornel West , Albert H. Teich via Shutterstock,

One of the fundamental questions with regard to the critique of — and activism against — the Israeli occupation: How does this connect up with other social movements, and other struggles? Is the case of Israel and Palestine so specific, so complex, as to resist analogy? And if so, what does that mean for those who would be inclined to sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians, but unable to see their way clear to act in solidarity with them, as they might for others?

These are pressing and difficult problems, yet increasingly, and especially on college campuses, and in academic organizations, people are willing to discuss and debate things like divestment, as well as academic and cultural boycotts that refuse to endorse the status quo. Indeed, earlier this month a group of 600 artists that included Ken Loach, Brian Eno, Khalid Abdalla and Haim Bresheeth announced they were endorsing a cultural boycott of Israel.

At a recent event at Stanford, where I am a professor of comparative literature, Cornel West paused in the midst of a speech to praise the student organizers who had put forward a bill to ask the Stanford trustees to divest; the bill had failed by only one vote. (And, on February 18, there would be a revote, in which the bill was passed, 10-4-1.) West made a point of insisting that raising the Palestinian flag should not be seen as an act of narrow nationalism, but rather as an act of solidarity with an oppressed people, and as part of the effort to grant them their right to self determination.

Afterwards, I spoke about how the issue of Israel-Palestine was registering not only with young people, but also with older progressives and intellectuals, and about the linkages between civil rights struggles in the US and abroad.

First of all, let me ask you: Why do you endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement? In what ways do the movement and its goals resonate with your longstanding activism, your values and principles?

Well I always proceed based on moral criteria and spiritual standards that have to do with keeping track of the humanity of persons. And there is no doubt in my mind that the Israeli occupation is ugly, it’s vicious, it’s brutal, and it needs to not just be brought to attention, it needs to be brought to an end. It’s also true that I am against the occupation of the Tibetan people and the occupation of Kashmir and others, but this particular occupation is one that deserves our attention precisely because as an American citizen my tax money is being used to perpetuate that ugly occupation.

Let me draw out a possible link between your anti-racist activism and your support of the Palestinian people. After Ferguson, a lot of people drew the parallel to Gaza. But as soon as they did, many others chimed in and said, “No, those cases are not at all the same and you can’t make that comparison.” And in fact when Angela Davis was invited to give the Martin Luther King, Jr. convocation for the city of Santa Cruz, Calif., recently, she got a lot of criticism for drawing out the parallels. What are your thoughts on that, how do you see making a legitimate case for the connection between Ferguson and Gaza?

Well first, in terms of the various kinds of Zionist critiques, we make it clear that this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Jewish hatred or anti-Jewish prejudice. This has to do with a moral and spiritual and political critique of occupation. Secondly, there is no doubt that Gaza is not just a “kind of” concentration camp, it is the hood on steroids. Now in the black community, located within the American empire, you do have forms of domination and subordination, forms of police surveillance and so forth, so that we are not making claims of identity, we are making claims of forms of domination that must be connected. And those are not the only two — we could talk about the Dalit people in India and the ways that their humanity is being lost and there are parallels there; we could talk about peasants in Mexico. So all of these are going to have similarities and dissimilarities. But there is no doubt that for the Ferguson moment in America and the anti-occupation moment in the Israel-Palestinian struggle there is a very important connection to make and I think we should continue to make it.

Well at one of our events today you called me a literary critic, but you’re a literary critic too—I’ve read some of your essays–so I want to ask you a question: How do we change the narrative around Israel-Palestine? How does that story change when one version is so ingrained in the American psyche — and it’s a particular narrative of the founding of the state of Israel as a Jewish state, and one that continues to justify the occupation and the colonial settler project of the state of Israel?

Well I am not the sophisticated literary critic you are, but I can say this: You can just look at the history of the divestment movement here at Stanford. You told me that two years ago when the student government voted on a divestment resolution, the vote was one “Yes,” seven “No,” and five abstentions. And just a few days ago when a similar divestment bill was presented, the vote was nine “Yes,” five “No,” and one abstention. The narrative is being changed and it’s only by means of voices — new stories and analysis, and bodies on the line, not just here but also across national boundaries — to shift the court of world opinion. And that’s precisely what is taking place. And of course at the center of it is the unbelievable courage of the Palestinian brothers and sisters against just overwhelming odds.

One last question: When you hear some people say, in the face of protest, agitation, critique, and civil disobedience, “we have to have peace, we need to obey the law,” like Obama did after the Ferguson verdict—you often have to think that it is precisely those whom the status quo serves, and in fact those who have the power to maintain the status quo in their favor, who are saying that we need to maintain peace (as they see it) at all cost. How do you move people out of their sense of privilege and entitlement?

Well first I think we have to be very clear that the call for the end of the vicious Israeli occupation is today a kind of litmus test for progressives, because you have sacrifice so much. There is no doubt that you will be called an anti-semite, that you will be called a chauvinist; there is no doubt you will be called someone who is downplaying the history of oppression of Jews. For so long, we have allowed not just the conservatives, not just the neo-liberals, but even progressive intellectuals to be silent when it comes to Palestinian peoples. So we have to call into question our own academic colleagues, we have to call into question our own fellow intellectuals.

And as a black intellectual it means I have to make the connection between the Obama apologists — who, as intellectuals, hide and conceal, not the silence, but the promotion of the military might that facilitates the killing of 500 Palestinian babies — with not one mumbling word being said by a President as the apologist intellectuals themselves don’t say a mumbling word. That needs to be shattered, that needs to be called into question. One can no longer say one is a serious progressive, let alone committed to moral integrity, without lifting one’s voice to call for an end to the Occupation of the Palestinian people. We have got to make that more and more a central part of our action.

David Palumbo-Liu is the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford University. Follow him on Twitter at @palumboliu.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Cornel West backs Steven Salaita, cancels prestigious Univ. of Illinois lecture

(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Wed, 03/04/2015 - 21:54

Cornel West (Bradley Siefert/Flickr)
Celebrated public intellectual Dr. Cornel West has cancelled a lecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to protest the firing of Steven Salaita.

West, a professor at Princeton University, joins a boycott of the University of Illinois by thousands of scholars outraged over the violation of Salaita’s right to free speech.

Salaita is suing university officials, trustees and donors for firing him from a tenured position in the American Indian Studies program. The complaint contends that the dismissal was motivated by university officials’ disagreement with tweets Salaita made criticizing Israel’s assault on Gaza last summer that killed more than 2,200 people.

“My change of mind in regard to my cancellation of my lecture constitutes a line in the sand I could not cross,” West said in a statement released by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

West was scheduled to deliver the prestigious 2015 Marjorie Hall Thulin Lecture next month on “The Profound Desire for Justice.”

“The case of my dear brother Professor Steven Salaita is a moral scandal of great proportion and the suffering of precious Palestinians under a vicious Israeli occupation is a crime against humanity, even in a world in which ugly anti-Jewish hatred escalates,” West added.

Salaita is represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, along with the law firm Loevy & Loevy.