Saturday, December 16, 2017

Breathing for Eric Garner: Matt Taibbi's Scorching Indictment of a Killing System's Impunity

I Can't Breathe: Matt Taibbi's scorching book on the murder of Eric Garner and the system that let the killers get away with it

by Cory Doctorow - BoingBoing


December 15, 2017

Matt Taibbi is one of the best political writers working in the USA today, someone who can use the small, novelistic details of individuals' lives to illuminate the vast, systemic problems that poison our lives and shame our honor; his 2014 book The Divide conducts a wide-ranging inquiry into the impunity of corporate criminals and the kafkaesque injustices visited on the poor people they victimize; in I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street, Taibbi narrows his focus to the police murder of Eric Garner, a Staten Island fixture and father, and the system that put murderers in uniform in his path.

Taibbi opens the book with a masterful, novelistic account of the racial divide in Staten Island, the brutal impunity of the NYPD, the lives of the people they stalk, humiliate, beat, and frame.

He introduces us to Tomkins Park, the neighborhood where Eric Garner was a fixture, selling untaxed cigarettes he brought in from out of state, and to Garner himself, a complicated, funny, bright, unlucky, likable man whose bad luck and bad choices had put him on that corner, selling smokes to keep his family fed, clothed and sheltered.

As Taibbi unravels the story of Garner, the circumstances that led to him being choked to death by a group of police officers who went on to terrorize Garner's friend for recording a video of the murder and releasing it, who faced no meaningful penalties -- and who, we learn, had long rapsheets for brutal, sadistic policing, he weaves the long history and diverse social and political circumstances that led to that moment.

  Taibbi's book is part history lesson, part political science, part biography (of several people, not all of them very nice), part on-the-scene reporting, part lawsplainer. He ranges over statistical models for predictive policing, the realpolitik of New York, where Democrats and Republicans alike have been critical to turning the city into a laboratory for testing and refining racist policing, housing, incarceration, and harassment policies.

Taibbi is a synthesist, able to dig into the personal history of the fathers of "broken windows policing," of rival black activist groups, of Garner and his family, tell their stories, show where they fit in a much larger, systemic analysis of how the nuts-and-bolts of institutional racism and police impunity.

In building understanding, Taibbi is always explaining, but never excusing. Just because Taibbi explains how the quota systems and official stonewalling creates a hospitable climate for sadistic, murdering rapists -- just because he shows that ultimately, these bad cops are taking the rap for an even worse system -- it doesn't follow that he's asking us to shed a tear for the poor cops who choked Eric Garner to death on a city street.

Taibbi's analysis also ranges over the explosion of anti-police-violence demonstrations that occurred in the wake of the Garner killing, after the deaths of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and so many other black men and women who were murdered by police officers who nearly never, ever paid any consequences for it.

He places the murder of Eric Garner in the context of the election of an openly white supremacist president, and the rage and outrage that followed that election.

One note on Taibbi himself: a few months ago, he was embroiled in a scandal of his own when passages from The eXile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia, a book he co-authored in 2000, were reprinted. The book is a memoir of Taibbi's tenure as a gonzo editor in post-Soviet Russia, co-written with his co-editor, Mark Ames, and it is a gross, tasteless -- and, it turns out, largely fictional -- tale.

The passages that made headlines were ones in which Taibbi and Ames detail subjecting female subordinates to cruel and degrading sexual harassment. When they broke, Taibbi explained that these passages had been written by Ames and were fictional. This struck many people as lame and not-very-credible excuses, but it appears they were true -- journalists who tracked down the co-workers in the book confirmed with them that none of the lurid, awful activities took place.

Which doesn't let Taibbi off the hook: his transgression isn't subjecting women to sexual violence and harassment: it's thinking that making up "gonzo" stories about this kind of thing was funny (rather than offensive and harmful in their own right), and co-signing his name to a published volume of these tales.

This isn't a good thing to have done, but it's also not in the same universe as committing actual sexual assaults. It definitely lowered my opinion of Taibbi, but I feel like making stupid, shitty "jokes" is ultimately a forgivable sin, and the kind of thing that Taibbi has made substantial amends for.

All this makes for a book that's as riveting as any novel, and as educational as any manifesto. Like The Divide, it is essential reading that captures a moment that the whole nation is wrestling with, and whose consequences could not be more important to us all.

I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street [Matt Taibbi/Random House] 

Remembering the Shoah in Palestine

A Statement Delivered By Gilad Atzmon at Babylon Theatre Berlin 

by Gilad Atzmon


14.12.2017

In the last few days, in advance of the NRhZ’s humanitarian award ceremony, like Ken (FM) Jebsen and others, I have been subject to an insane defamation campaign.

None of it was substantiated. It was comprised of fabricated quotes: I was called a ‘holocaust denier’ and a ‘holocaust relativist.’ Yet, not a single genuine reference was made to my writings or talks.

In my work I criticise reducing the holocaust into a crude religion, an intolerant dogma. In my writing I protest against all history laws (Nakba laws, Armenian Genocide laws, Holocaust laws etc.) History for me, is the attempt to narrate the past as we are moving along. As such, it must be sustained as a dynamic discourse, subject to constant change and revision, even if this change happens to be slightly uncomfortable. For me, history is an ethical message --Only when we revise the past may we be able to, once again, rethink our future and destiny.

In recent days some of the German press referred to me as an ‘anti-semite.’ Am I? Have I ever criticized anyone including Jews as a ‘people’, as a ‘race,’ as a ‘biology,’ or as an ‘ethnicity’? Never.

My work is anti racist. I have dedicated my entire adult life to fighting racism through my music, my writing and my performances. I am opposed to all forms of biologically-oriented politics: White, Black, Gender as well as Jewish. I am searching instead for that which brings humans together. In my writing and talks I make a clear distinction between the Jews (the people) whom I never criticize, Judaism (the religion) which I rarely deal with and Jewishness (the ideology, politics and culture). In my work I focus on the last- - the ideology , the politics and the culture, assuming that we all agree these (ideology, politics and culture) must be open to criticism.

But if you want to talk about holocaust denial, I will tell you something about denial. To deny intellectuals, authors and artists the right to express their views in the open is where fascism starts. What I saw in Germany in the last few days suggests to me that some segments within your society really learned nothing from the history of your country. To deny the holocaust is to deny its meaning, to turn your eyes away when you see evil, to let your heart become cold when you yourself participate in evil or celebrate hatred. To deny the holocaust is to fail to address your own inability to tolerate others and otherness. It is beyond painful for me to witness Germany being led blindly into the same trap just seven decades after the liberation of Auschwitz.

But I would like to add one more line on Palestine. Some Germans claim to be tormented by their past, by the atrocities of the 3rd Reich. If this is indeed the case, let me please remind you of a simple but embarrassing fact – the Palestinians are the last victims of Hitler.

It was the extent of the Shoah that brought support to Zionism and led to the formation of the Jewish State in Palestine. But it is the innocent Palestinians who, for the last seven decades, have been paying the price for crimes committed by Europeans.

If you feel guilty about Hitler, stand for Palestine and the Palestinians!

Damning the Greens: Does Weaver Deserve to Keep Green Mantle?

Does Andrew Weaver's response to Site C justify his removal as head of the B.C. Greens?

by Charlie Smith  - The Straight


December 15th, 2017

The B.C. Greens say they're opposed to the Site C dam, but the caucus, led by Andrew Weaver, isn't doing a lot to stop it. Andrew Weaver


(Warning: This is a long essay.)

[For complete article, see original at the Straight.com here.]


Imagine you're in the back seat of a large pickup truck and there are three burly guys in the front seats.

The driver, Rich Coleman, is taking you straight toward a cliff.

You're starting to panic but Coleman isn't interested in hearing your worries about what's going to happen.

He keeps travelling headlong into certain disaster.

So you shout at the other guys in the front seat. You demand that one of them take the wheel and turn this vehicle in a different direction.

Much to your relief, they hear what you're saying and spring into action.

The two of them, John Horgan and Andrew Weaver, drag Coleman's clutching hands away from the steering wheel and push him over to the passenger side of the seat window.

Horgan plops into the driver's seat.

Weaver is now in the middle seat. Unlike Coleman, these two know that they're headed toward the precipice.

You feel calmer because you trust Horgan and Weaver to make the right driving decision.

They're not stupid men. They won't send you over the embankment crashing into the gully below.

But much to your shock, Horgan keeps the pickup going in exactly the same direction. Then he puts his foot on the accelerator.

Naturally, you're horrified.

You cry out to Weaver for help.

But he leans in toward Horgan, assuring him that he's got his back.

Weaver tells Horgan that if he drives over the cliff, nobody in the front seat is going to try pull his hands away from the wheel.

"I'll just sit beside you and complain about your driving," Weaver says with a wink and a smile.

With this, Horgan lets out a belly laugh. He quips that even his wife and his brother don't like his driving, but he's confident that any fears of disaster are vastly overstated.

Off to the side, Coleman mutters to himself, "I was right all along. These idiots are going to take me to my destination anyway. And if that yappy guy in the back is actually right and if I actually survive the crash, I can now blame Horgan and Weaver."

You're in the back seat feeling helpless about how to avert a catastrophe. You become enveloped with a sense of doom.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Not Ready to Let Net Neutrality Die?

The Fight for Net Neutrality Isn't Over 

by TRNN


December 15, 2017

The FCC repeal of net neutrality is dangerous, but with court challenges and more grassroots activism on the way, it can still be stopped, says Craig Aaron of Free Press.




Craig Aaron is the president and CEO of Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund in April 2011. He joined Free Press in 2004 and speaks across the country on media, Internet and journalism issues. Craig is a frequent guest on talk radio and is quoted often in the national press. His commentaries also appear regularly in the Guardian and the Huffington Post. Before joining Free Press, he was an investigative reporter for Public Citizen's Congress Watch and the managing editor of In These Times magazine. He is the editor of two books, Appeal to Reason: 25 Years of In These Times and Changing Media: Public Interest Policies for the Digital Age. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. 

Coals for Oligarchs: Putin Plays Santa (and Scrooge)

God Bless, Almost Everyone! - No Christmas Dinner for the Oligarchs

by John Helmer - Dancing with Bears


December 15, 2017

Moscow - This isn’t news: President Vladimir Putin (lead image, right) is running for re-election on March 18. According to the latest national polls, he is likely to win with a larger majority of a smaller turnout than in 2012. As Tiny Tim (left) almost said in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, God bless us, almost every one!

What is news is that after declaring his re-election bid to a group of autoworkers; proclaiming a hike in pensions from New Year’s Day; and announcing to Russian troops in Syria that most of them will return home, Putin is not – repeat not — hosting his annual Christmas dinner for the oligarchs. God bless us, almost every one!

Russian opinion pollsters report that Putin’s approval rating is holding steady above the 80% mark, increasing slightly in December so far, compared to November.

But this is having the effect of dissuading voters from going to the polls. Naturally, they believe the outcome is certain. So compared to a turnout rate of 65.34% in 2012, the latest polling indicates turnout next March will be 58% or less.


Source: Levada Center polling November 2017 reports 81%: http://www.levada.ru/en/ 
Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), December 8, 2017, reports 82.4%:

This is causing a divergence of opinion among Kremlin campaign technicians over how hard to try to raise turnout. They are debating whether the effect, at least in some cities and segments of the population, will be more criticism of the president, fewer votes for him than the 63.6% he won in 2012.

The Levada Centre of Moscow has just issued this poll weighing Putin’s pros and cons among voters; the nationwide survey was undertaken at the end of October, and published on December 11. Here are the negatives:



The percentages look small, but they are symptomatic. Those willing to express the negatives on the record are a small proportion of what the voter sample thinks but isn’t willing to divulge. This is a warning to Putin that his marathon television press conferences and call-in sessions are losing their persuasiveness. Then there’s the question of whose interests Russians think Putin really represents. Here the answers make the negative picture of Putin more vivid, and the contrast between this year and earlier years sharper.



Putin has been studying what approach to take towards this voter sentiment, ahead of his national press conference on Thursday. “’The president is making preparations for the annual news conference all [Wednesday],” announced Dmitry Peskov to the state news agency Tass. ‘There are no public events on the president’s agenda today, so he will be making preparations [for the news conference] from dawn to dusk,’ Peskov added.”

When Putin opened his press conference on Thursday afternoon, he started by saying: “I would prefer not to talk about my election programme at this point.” Nothing could be further from the truth – and everyone knows it. God bless us, every one! Follow the questions and answers here.

Putin admitted he and his advisors aren’t sure yet what campaign to run. He implied he intends to delegate the tactics to regional governors and the security services.

“With regard to disagreements,” Putin told the press conference, “…we operate in a lively environment: there is discussion and disagreement, but only until we reach a common solution. With regard to this issue – it is technical, but still important – I would like, of course, to see people of authority who are well known across the country, who, I reiterate, sincerely support the policy pursued over the past few years.”

Almost all the president’s answers were then directed at the “everyday people”. As a campaign strategy, this is to accentuate the positive. “This is probably not the right format for presenting [the election platform], but I can share with you some of its highlights that should be the focus of attention for the authorities and society in general. Specifically, this has to do with infrastructure development, healthcare and education. This is also about high technology, as I have already said, and improving labour efficiency.”

The security establishment was almost ignored. No question was asked and no answer given on the subject of oligarchs. On the subject of bankers, Putin had just this to say: “those people who have brought their financial institutions to the brink do not get any money. This, in my opinion, is extremely important. There is something else I need to point out, because I have often heard this criticism of the Central Bank – that the Central Bank policies are aimed at state control of the banking system. This is not true. First, I repeat, there are 521 banks or more, 521, I think, let alone other credit institutions, because not all credit institutions are banks.”



The Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) does not publish surveys of voter intention, turnout, or ballot preference; click to see its poll results here. The Levada Center had its origin in the Soviet-era VTsIOM organization but it became a spinoff from VTsIOM after 2003. Levada does publish surveys of the sensitive campaign issues. But since September 2016 it has been sanctioned by the government, and compelled to register as a foreign agent. For the Center’s discussion of the circumstances, read this.

In opening his campaign with a pitch to autoworkers on December 6, Putin and his campaign staff managed the presentation in a revealing way. When Putin visits a factory, it is normal for him to be met at the door and accompanied around the plant by the owner of the plant, the control shareholder. If that man is an oligarch, the photographs are always publicized to demonstrate the Kremlin’s endorsement and favour.

Last week at the Gorky Automobile Works (GAZ), for Putin’s election campaign kickoff, there was sex appeal; hoopla; shining props just off the production line. But there was no sign of the owner of GAZ, Oleg Deripaska. Spokesmen for GAZ and for Deripaska were asked to explain his absence from Putin’s visit to GAZ. They refused.



Staff at the two polling agencies, VTsIOM and Levada, refuse to say if they have produced breakdowns of their presidential approval rating surveys by education, income or social class. Levada doesn’t say if it has done likewise for its surveys of turnout and candidate choice. Class, as this has been known in Russia between the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, and until 1991 is discreetly left out of contemporary Russian polling.

This leaves the “ordinary people” at the bottom of the Levada table – and they are feeling the pinch this year. Rosstat reports that over the first nine months of 2017, real incomes declined by 1.2% compared to the same period of last year. In January there was an 8.8% increase; this was the Kremlin’s doing with an order to the Finance Ministry for a one-time boost to pensions. In April real income fell 7.5%; in May and June there was no growth.

Putin has ordered something of a repeat in January next, when non-working pensioners will be given a 3.7% increase. This is one month ahead of the usual February deadline for indexation; maybe a bit more than the index should allow; but less than the January 2017 bonus. For details of the new pension scheme recently announced, click to open.

For the Tiny Tims of Russia, this year has been one of no improvement, or worse. They are following the brown line – that’s the trend of real income increase (or decrease) compared to 2014:

DISPOSABLE INCOME MEASURED AS PERCENT INCREASING OR DECREASING OVER THE MONTHLY AVERAGES DURING 2014


Key: green= actual money income paid; orange=income excluding seasonal factors; 
brown=income trend line

The Russian government also operates a special tax for “ordinary people”. It was first created in President Boris Yeltsin’s time, when it was called wage arrears. The officials responsible then are retired or dead, except for Anatoly Chubais. His name is one of the most hated in Russian public opinion; we’ll come to him in a moment.

In practice, arrears were the outcome of deliberate delay in paying wages by state and public institutions lacking the budget funds from the federal Finance Ministry; and refusal to pay wages by commercial organizations, shareholding corporations, and private companies. Arrears are reported monthly by the Russian state statistics agency Rosstat. As this report of 2001 indicated, during the Yeltsin period the arrears number peaked at over Rb103 billion after the election campaign of 1996; that was the election which Yeltsin, with Chubais’s help, lost on the votes cast, but won on fraud, with Chubais’s help.


Left: Anatoly Chubais with President Yeltsin; Chubais was head of state 
privatization, deputy prime minister, chief of the Kremlin staff, re-election 
campaign director in 1996, and head of the state power utility, UES. 
Right: Chubais with President Putin, who continued to employ Chubais during 
the privatization of UES. In 2008 Putin appointed Chubais head of the state 
technology holding, Rusnano, where he remains despite indictments of 
Chubais’s subordinates for fraud and embezzlement; for details, click.

Wage arrears fell during 1997, then started up again in 1998, peaking in October of that year, after the default of the state treasury on its bonds and the collapse of the banking system, at Rb88 billion.

The political impact of the wage arrears number is obvious. When it is rising, the president is blamed, and his approval rating falls. Russian pollsters have admitted in private the correlation that for every 1% increase in the arrears, month to month, Putin’s rating has usually fallen by 0.5%. Read more.

Putin has never been asked a question about arrears in his national press conferences or national talkshows, but the Kremlin staff pay close attention. In Putin’s first term, the arrears number peaked in the spring of 2001 at a figure of Rb34 billion. As the numbers went up earlier that year, the official statistics showed it was commercial or private enterprises rather than public or government bodies that were to blame. By imposing more budget discipline, Putin pulled both the arrears and his rating out of their common dive.

In January 2014, the month before the US started the war in Ukraine, the total arrears figure was just below Rb2 billion. By Yeltsin standards, it was Putin’s achievement to have brought the number down so low. However, as the chart shows, since 2014 the trend has moved upwards, and thus against the president. In 2015 the number passed through Rb2.5 billion. It rose steadily in 2016 to a peak of Rb4.5 billion in May of 2016, before heading downwards.


The chart shows that this year January started well, but arrears then began 
rising again to a peak of Rb4 billion in May. Compared to the Yeltsin period, 
Russians acknowledge the obvious – they are better off. But the trend line 
during Putin’s three terms began to move against him after the US war started.

It’s also obvious that Putin’s approval rating hasn’t suffered. That’s because of the war effect, and the US Government. If successive regimes in Washington hadn’t made a policy of attacking Russia, Russians, and Putin personally, domestic support for him, and the course of domestic elections, would have gone differently. The break in the correlation between wage arrears and voter approval has been a major achievement of the US war against Russia to date. In this way, Russian sociologists believe the war has also been protecting the president from the income inequality which Putin has encouraged through the oligarch system. For details of how this has operated, click.

 That the latest voter survey reveals that 31% of Russians believe Putin represents the oligarchs’ interests, compared to 14% in December 2003 – two months after the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky – indicates also that the US war against Russia has been protecting the relationship between Putin and what the US Treasury calls his “cronies”. That ‘s to say, protecting Putin from the damage the relationship does to Russian voter confidence in Putin.

Starting in 2014 Putin has made an annual celebration of this relationship by inviting the oligarchs and a handful of state officials to a Christmas dinner at the Kremlin. On December 19, 2014, Putin had 45 guests. Read the story here.


On December 24, 2015, the guest list numbered 46; read more. Last 
year Putin hosted the dinner on December 19, and increased his list to 62. 
For the significance of the additions, read this.

The timing has traditionally been a week or so after the president’s national press conference. So if this year Putin is to follow suit the oligarchs’ dinner should be held next week. Asked this week to confirm if this is so, the Kremlin press office said “in the near future such a meeting isn’t planned.”

The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIE) is the business lobby group through which the oligarchs officially interact with the government; it is consulted by the Kremlin on the Christmas dinner guest list, though its president, Alexander Shokhin, wasn’t invited to the 2014 or 2015 dinners. Shokhin is also paid to serve as an independent director on the boards of Rosneft, Eurasia Drilling, Mechel, and pipemaker TMK (where he sits next to Chubais). RUIE was asked to say if the Kremlin dinner is on this year; it refused to reply.

Russian political analysts believe Putin does not want to appear at the start of the election campaign in the company of the oligarchs. This is why there will be no Christmas dinner. It is also the reason Putin did not want to meet Deripaska at the GAZ factory for the election campaign launch – and why Deripaska’s men won’t admit it.

This does not mean that the one in three voters identified by the Levada poll as believing Putin represents the oligarchs are mistaken or fooled. Nor that the oligarchs are feeling slighted by the Kremlin. This is evident from a look-alike Kremlin reception Putin hosted for Shokhin, RUIE and the oligarchs on September 21, two months before the GAZ ceremony.



For this event, there was a record number of guests at the table – 64. But there was no dinner to follow the speeches. “You know we do not meet often,” Putin said in his opening remarks, “but [we] still regularly get together in approximately the same line-up and compare our positions on the developments in the economy and in specific sectors. I must say that despite certain limitations, including external restrictions, the Russian economy is stabilising. As you know, it is perfectly obvious that it has overcome the recession, is gaining momentum, and has been growing for several quarters running.”

“As you also know, we planned for fairly modest growth of about 0.8 percent. In the first quarter of the year the GDP increased by 0.5 percent but it has already gone up 2.5 percent in the second quarter. Investment increased 6.3 percent, which is the highest since the second quarter of 2012. Naturally, this is a good foundation for future development.”

Putin also presented a birthday watch to Andrei Kostin, head of the state bank VTB; and informed the gathering that sunflower oil production is up this year by almost 20%, while growth in knitwear is even better at 23.5%. Press reporting of what was discussed but not disclosed on the Kremlin website, indicates that Putin was asked to protect the oligarchs from US sanctions by relaxing current Russian inheritance laws in favour of passing assets to their children; exempting the oligarchs from returning their assets to Russian tax jurisdiction, so that the assets can be hidden from the Americans abroad; and introducing cryptocurrencies to avoid US dollar monitoring by the US Treasury. For more details, read this. The oligarchs’ fear of sanctions was the dominant topic for the private talks with the president.

The guests were seated in alphabetical order, and the table setting was published by RBC here.

Compared to the oligarch dinners of Christmasses past, the most notable guests who were missing in September were Alisher Usmanov (iron ore, steel, telecommunications) and Alexander Abramov (steel). The most important of Putin’s new guests was Chubais; he was seated between Shokhin and Sergei Chemezov, head of the state strategic asset holding Russian Technologies (Rostec).

This is the first public endorsement of Chubais by Putin since the prosecutions commenced at Rusnano in 2015.


From left to right: Vagit Alekperov (LUKoil), Victor Vekselberg (Renova),
Elvira Nabiullina (Central Bank), Andrei Kostin (VTB), Roman Abramovich (Evraz),
Suleiman Kerimov (Polyus Gold), and Anatoly Chubais (Rusnano). 

The Kremlin website report of what was said at their meeting reveals Putin’s hint at the sanctions problem.

“Considering that external restrictions still exist and may even be extended, I would like to hear your opinions on this situation, your assessments and proposals. This is probably all I need to say for now.”  

The only press report to have included the private discussions reveals that the cryptocurrency proposal was rejected. But there is no disclosure of Putin’s reaction to the inheritance and offshore proposals.

Were the goose and fixings served then? The Kremlin was asked on Wednesday to say if the  September 21 meeting had been a substitute for the Christmas dinner. The president’s spokesman replied he had “no information”.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Gorilla Radio with Chris Cook, Ingmar Lee December 14th, 2017

This Week on GR

by C. L. Cook - Gorilla-Radio.com


December 14, 2017

It’s been two weeks since the ATB, or Articulated Tanker Barge, Jake Shearer separated from its 10,000 ton tanker load of Alaska-bound crude oil off Hecate Strait along British Columbia’s mid-coast region.

Less than a nautical mile from disaster, the stormy weather very nearly dashing the barge onto Gosling Rocks, where the result would surely have been the long-predicted Exxon Valdez-like ruination of one of the World’s most precious natural marine environments.

Whether by luck, or some divine intervention, that disaster did not take place November 30th, 2017, but the threat remains, and it’s only a matter of time before it does happen.

Listen. Hear.

Ingmar Lee is a long-time, BC-based environment defender. From the Nanaimo watershed and first-growth valley bottoms of Vancouver Island, to the nuclear plant-threatened coastline of India, and the threatened shores and Sandhill Crane nesting grounds of British Columbia’s mid-coast, Ingmar has advocated for and stood between an increasingly fragile ecosystem and the rapine destructiveness of big business and its government enablers.

For this he’s been arrested and charged in the courts, and had his name traduced and character vilified in the corporate and state media. Yet he persists in defense of the wild world.

Ingmar Lee and the long fight for the embattled natural world in a special end of year Gorilla Radio presentation.

Why Honduras Matters

Why the Honduras Crisis Matters to Me

by Rick Sterling - Dissident Voice


December 12th, 2017 
  
For seven months in 1969 I hitch-hiked around the US, Mexico and Central America with my best friend from high school. Some class-mates from our school in Vancouver Canada saved their money then travelled to Europe or Australia but Ollie and I headed south. It was an eye-opening experience for two middle class Canadians. We had a lot of learning experiences in the US but today I want to talk about Honduras because it is in crisis as I write this: the Honduran election took place on 26 November yet the results are still in contention.

Will the current right wing government manage to retain power?


When we visited the capital Tegucigalpa in 1969 we went to the university campus to meet and hang out with young Hondurans. They told us about the recent visit of President Richard Nixon who had taken office a few months before and then travelled to Latin America. The Vietnam war was still raging in 1969 and people protested against the war and Nixon wherever he went. The young Hondurans told us that when Nixon visited Tegucigalpa there had been a big protest. Several students who had been protesting from the top of a university building had been shot dead. It made an impression as did the warm and friendly people we met, some living in shacks along the banks of the Choluteca River running through the capital.

In Nicaragua we heard more eye-opening stories from the youth there. They told us about the Somoza family dictatorship, how corrupt it was, and how they came to power through US Marines. They also told us about the death of Cesar Sandino who fought for Nicaraguan independence but was killed by Somoza’s National Guard in 1934. The Nicaraguan youth told us that when the US asked for proof of Sandino’s death, Somoza shipped Sandino’s head in a box to Washington.

Those and many other experiences changed my life. Over the coming decades I kept an interest in Central America.

In 1979, when Nicaraguans overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, it seemed like a good thing. But President Ronald Reagan did not like an independent Nicaragua. Violating international law, the US organized a mercenary army called the “Contras” to destabilize and upend the Sandinista government. The mercenaries were trained in Honduras with US funding, supplies and weapons. The US Ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte, oversaw the mercenary army attacking Nicaragua and the emergence of death squads in El Salvador. Tens of thousands of peasants and opposition activists were killed with impunity. In Honduras, itself, there was widespread repression and murder of those challenging the status quo.

In 1998 Honduras was hit by Hurricane Mitch. The second worst Atlantic hurricane ever recorded caused huge destruction and death, especially in poor communities with weak infrastructure. The shacks and modest dwellings along the river bank in Tegucigalpa were all ripped and washed away. Over 7,000 Hondurans died, including people we had met three decades before.

Six years later, in 2004, I was again reminded of the US role in Honduras when the same John Negroponte who had overseen the Contra operations went to Baghdad to take over management of the Iraq occupation. Newsweek magazine said he was coming with a new strategy, which they dubbed the “Salvador option”. Over the next year, sectarian death squads emerged to provoke sectarian bloodshed. Negroponte’s right hand man in Iraq, Robert S. Ford, was later appointed as US Ambassador to Syria in 2010 where he helped fuel the uprisings in that country. Thus there is direct connection between U.S.interference and aggression in Central America and the Middle East.

For decades Honduras was alternately ruled by two political parties representing different branches of their oligarchy. They traded power back and forth, effectively preventing alternative perspectives.

But things began to change in Honduras in 2006. President Manuel Zelaya came from the oligarchy but started to initiate changes benefiting the poor. He called for real land reform, raising the minimum wage and he questioned the need for US military bases. That was too much. In June 2009 President Zelaya was kidnapped in the middle of the night and flown from the capital to the US military air base called Soto Cano, only 48 miles away. Hillary Clinton had been in Honduras just weeks before. She disapproved of Zelaya and his policies. The coup went ahead.

After the 2009 coup, conditions in Honduras deteriorated rapidly. Tegucigalpa became the homicide capital of the world. Tens of thousands of youth have fled the country as it has been wracked by drug wars, corruption, and police or paramilitary repression. Alongside this, there has been widespread popular resistance.

In 2011, I returned to Honduras to see the conditions first hand. With a delegation organized by Alliance for Global Justice and Task Force on the Americas, I visited peasants in the fertile Aguan Valley, indigenous communities in the mountains and workers and church activists in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. We talked with a hard-working activist named Berta Caceres1 and others in her indigenous organization COPINH. We learned that these communities were still actively resisting the coup and forming a new political party to challenge the right wing coup government not with guns but with votes.

In 2013 I returned again to Honduras, this time as an election observer. In the contest, the new LIBRE party surpassed the traditional Liberal Party and made a strong challenge to the right wing National Party. There were many examples of election malfeasance but Juan Orlando Hernandez of the right wing National Party was anointed as the new President.

Since then social and economic conditions have not changed. The Hernandez regime governs to the benefit of rich Hondurans and international corporations. He has a strong military alliance with the US military and is very friendly with President Trump’s Chief of Staff General Kelly.

That has set the stage for the most recent events. Days before the election The Economist ran an article describing a National Party training session in cheating techniques. The election was held on Sunday 26 November . On election night, with 57% of the votes counted, the opposition challenger was ahead by over 5%. Then strange things began to happen. The election commission stopped updating the vote tally for 36 hours. On Monday the head of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said they were still missing 6,000 tally sheets from different polling places. A few hours later, he said they were missing 7500 tally sheets. When they resumed on Tuesday, suddenly the existing President Hernandez was gaining votes, cutting the opposition lead and then winning. It all looks very fishy, even to the OAS monitors.

The situation is rapidly coming to a head. At this moment it is not known what will happen. Initially the opposition demanded a full and complete review of all the 18,000 tally sheets. Now they are calling for the annulment of the election and a new election under international supervision.

The Honduran government is either stonewalling or is paralyzed. Hundreds of thousands of Hondurans have protested in the streets, with over twelve protesters killed. However, in a dramatic change, the elite para-military COBRA security forces have started to refuse orders, saying their job is not to repress their own communities.

Just as the 2009 coup in Honduras was a setback for all Latin America, the outcome of the current crisis will have consequences far beyond Honduras. As clearly articulated in this article, “The US has a lot riding on the Honduran election“, the US foreign policy establishment wants the continuation of the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH).

Despite all the indications of electoral malfeasance and human rights abuses, the Trump Administration has praised the JOH government. Meanwhile, North American reporters, analysts and activists are doing what they can to support Honduran popular forces and stop the theft of the Honduran election. The coming days may be momentous. I have explained why it matters to me. But this is more important than a personal connection. It should matter to anyone concerned with progress, justice, respect and international law.


1. In 2015 Berta Caceres was recognized internationally with a prestigious award but last year she was murdered in her home.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist. He lives in the SF Bay Area and can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com.
Read other articles by Rick.

Media Cult Circles Wagons on Russiagate Gaffe

Media or Cult? CNN Buries a Massive Russiagate Gaffe

by TRNN


December 12, 2017

Instead of explaining how it reported a false story on Russiagate, CNN brought on neocon David Frum to defend it. Max Blumenthal says that's a "window into a cult created around Russiagate."



Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. His most recent book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. His other book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, is a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller. Max is co-host of the podcast Modern Rebel. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Enviros React to NDP Site C "No Choice" Decision

Site C dam given green light by NDP

by WildernessCommittee.org


December 11, 2017

Wilderness Committee outraged and warns of rising debt and conflict

VANCOUVER, B.C. - The Wilderness Committee has reacted with shock and anger at the news that B.C. Premier John Horgan has given the green-light to the massive, misguided Site C dam project.

“We are extremely disappointed by this decision,” said Wilderness Committee National Campaign Director Joe Foy.
“Allowing this money wasting, human rights abusing boondoggle of a white elephant to proceed will go down as one of the worst blunders in B.C. history.”

The Site C dam is now an addition to the sad history of human rights violations when constructing large industrial projects in the Peace River country like the fracking boom and the W.A.C. Bennett Dam.

“This dam is an assault on the human rights of the Indigenous people of the Peace River Valley. The province is so worried about the two billion dollars sunk into it already, but that is nothing to pay for reconciliation,” said Foy.
“You can’t say you are committed to United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and then approve the Site C dam.”

The Wilderness Committee has been fighting this proposal since 2010 and is part of a group of environmental organizations, First Nations, unions, human rights groups, science associations, political parties and local community members that have come together in recent years to oppose the Site C dam.

“Since the 1970’s when it was first proposed, the Site C dam has caused nothing but worry and heartbreak for the farm families and First Nations living in the Peace River Valley. With the election of the NDP government, there came reason to hope. But now the looming threat of a dam flooding them out is back – what a lost opportunity,” said Foy.
“Approving this dam is a heist of billions of dollars of public funds for a project the province does not need and could never pay off. Every right-minded B.C. resident has a responsibility to keep fighting this damn dam until it is gone.”

- 30 -

For Immediate Release – Dec. 11, 2017

For more information, please contact:

Joe Foy | National Campaign Director, Wilderness Committee
 joe@wildernesscommittee.org

Related Campaign: Stop the Site C Dam

Site C: "I Have No Choice" Says BC Premier

"I Have No Choice" Says BC Premier

by C. L. Cook - Pacific Free Press


December 11, 2017

Today's is a date that will live in infamy in British Columbia. On the 20th anniversary of the precedent setting Delgamuukw decision on First Nations rights and treaty-making, the New Democratic Party has turned its back on First Nations' objections to a mega project that will submerge the spirit of that decision, washing away those rights as surely as the rising waters of the Peace River.

In announcing the decision to continue the controversial project, NDP leader, John Horgan insisted, "I had no choice." Now it's clear, voters in BC have no political alternative to the corporate BC Liberals who initiated Site C, a project not only environmentally, culturally, and politically devastating for the province but also a white elephant certain to be financially crippling for generations to come.

As disappointing as the NDP volte-face on Site C has been, the tepid objections to it raised by Green Party of BC leader, Andrew Weaver convinces too, any hope British Columbia's polity had to reverse the rapine, business as usual, corporate friendly ideology emanating from Victoria will have to wait at least another generation.

For those voters wishing real change, Horgan's weak invocation of "no choice" today rings with a bitter irony his party will soon learn to its' regret.  
  

Is "Radical Feminism" the Only Solution to Male Sexual Aggression?

Radical feminism is the only solution to men’s ongoing ‘sexual misconduct’

by Robert Jensen - feminist current


December 10, 2017

Radical feminism challenges us to be better than our patriarchal culture asks of us — to reject patriarchy’s glorification of control, conquest, and aggression.


I’m not surprised,” women say, in response to the flood of revelations of sexual “misconduct” by men, especially men in positions of power. But none of us — women or men — should be surprised, because the United States is a patriarchal society and in patriarchy men routinely claim the right to own or control women’s bodies for reproduction and sexual pleasure. Men — liberal and conservative — know that just as well as women.

In such a society, conservative and liberal men will often disagree in public about the conditions under which they can rightly claim ownership. Conservative men argue for control of women within the heterosexual family. Liberal men argue for more expansive access to women.

In public, the policy debates about reproductive rights and sexual access rage on. In private, conservative and liberal men claim their “right” to do as they please, which is why women sometimes find it difficult to tell conservative and liberal men apart when it comes to behavior.

What kind of world has that produced? A sexually corrosive pop culture (both in dating practices and mediated images), with expanding sexual exploitation industries (primarily prostitution and pornography), and routine sexual intrusion (the spectrum from sexual harassment to sexual assault). Women are routinely objectified in pop culture, reducing complex human beings to body parts for male pleasure. Men routinely buy and sell those objectified bodies for sexual pleasure, in person and on screens. And when men believe they can take those bodies without challenge, some men do just that.

Male or female, we are should not be surprised when in a patriarchal society — a society based on institutionalized male dominance — men exercise that dominance. Of course patriarchy is not static nor unidimensional, nor is it the only system of illegitimate authority. Patriarchy in 2017 is not exactly the same as in 1917; patriarchy in the United States is not the same as patriarchy in Saudi Arabia. Race, class, religion, and nation affect how patriarchy plays out in a specific time and place.

Patriarchy also is not immune to challenge. Feminism makes gains, patriarchy pushes back, and the struggle continues. Women advance in business, politics, and education, and men assert their control over women’s bodies where they can get away with it.

Radical feminism is the term for that component of the second wave of feminism (in the United States, the phase of the movement that emerged in the 1960s) that most directly confronts men’s sexual exploitation of women. In the three decades that I have been involved in radical feminist projects, this analysis has become more useful than ever in explaining an increasingly corrosive society, the mainstreaming of sexual exploitation, and the epidemic levels of sexual intrusion.

Yet both conservatives and liberals routinely dismiss radical feminism as dangerous, out of date, irrelevant. Why would an analysis that offers a compelling explanation of social trends be ignored? My experience suggests that it’s precisely because of the power of the radical feminist analysis that it is avoided. U.S. society is unwilling, or unable, to confront the pathology of patriarchy, a system of illegitimate authority woven so deeply into the fabric of everyday life that many people are afraid of naming it, let alone confronting it.

I remember clearly my first exposure to radical feminist ideas, when I was 30 years old, in the late 1980s. I knew that the women making these arguments, specifically about men’s exploitation of women in and through pornography, had to be crazy — because if they weren’t crazy, I not only would have to rethink what I had learned about the sex/gender system in patriarchy but also change my own behavior. But radical feminism wore me down — with evidence and compelling arguments, along with an undeniable emotional honesty. Once I let myself listen carefully, radical feminism not only explained the oppression of girls and women but also helped me understand why I had never felt I could live up to the pathological standards of masculinity in patriarchy.

I had been taught that feminism — especially radical feminism — was a threat to men. I came to understand that it is a gift to us. Not the kind of gift that makes one feel warm and fuzzy but instead challenges us to be better than our patriarchal culture asks of us, to reject patriarchy’s glorification of control, conquest, and aggression.

I’m about to turn 60, and the half of my life lived with a feminist analysis has not always been easy, nor have I magically overcome all my flaws. But radical feminism allowed me to stop worrying about how to be a “real man” and start figuring out how to be a decent person.

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men, and Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully. He can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu or through his website: robertwjensen.org.
To join his email list, visit: thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Can We Trade Tribalism and Become Universal?

I’m Not Racist, Am I?

by Gilad Atzmon


December 11, 2017

I'm Not Racist: The video below is rapper’s Joyner Lucas' "I'm Not Racist." It's uncomfortable for some of us to watch, but within a few days it was viewed by 12 million people.

The video opens with a big white man in a "Make America Great Again" hat ‘speaking his mind,’ by expressing what many white Americans believe about blacks. In the second verse, the song takes a surprising turn -- a young black man in dreadlocks tells his story and counters each of the white man’s identitarian generalizations.



Why has I’m Not Racist attracted millions of viewers? Because unlike Western academia, media, politicians and progressives who try to suppress the way people think and express themselves, the artist here attempts to reshape the universe, offering a prospect of unity.

While oligarchs and their identitarian lapdogs push us into race wars, religious conflicts, immoral interventionist disasters and identity battles, beauty focuses on the universal. Art shows us how to escape from the dystopia inflicted by the Soroses and their cultural and political mercenaries.

In I’m Not Racist’s final scene we see forgiveness. The white and the black men reconcile. The big Trump supporter and the young black man embrace. Human bonds prevail. Let us try extend this exercise a bit. Can we imagine an Israeli and a Palestinian telling each other what they really think about each other? I think we can. Can we think of a Jihadi Muslim playing a similar role with a global war enthusiast? I think we can.

But what about a Goy and a Jew? Can we envisage a video of a Goy shouting angrily at a Jew what many Goyim think about Israel, choseness, the Fed, Goldman Sachs, Soros, Hollywood, the Holocaust industry, the Holodomor, Palestine, AIPAC, CFI, the Lobby, Weinstein, Epstein, Lord Janner? Would a video with such content survive for one day on Youtube? Can we also imagine an angry Jew standing in front of a camera sharing the Jewish side of the story? Will he proffer the Jewish view of the world and in particular, the Goyim? Will he tell us the meanings of Goyishe Kopf, shiksa and Shvartze? I suspect that we all know the answer to this. It is not going to happen for the same reason it has never happened.

Those who self identify (politically) as Jews are often removed from the realm of the universal. When they ‘oppose racism,’ they are too often primarily concerned with antisemitsm. Even when they support the Palestinians, they do so within racially exclusive Jewish political cells as JVPs can attest. When they fight for ‘freedom of Speech on Israel’ within the Labour Party they still operate as the ‘Jewish’ Voice for Labour and form an ‘all-Jewish panel.’

It is a reasonable argument that the Jew/Goy relationship is volatile territory, guarded and even policed by a variety of means including legal measures.

Rapper Joyner Lucas crosses the black/white divide because for him being in the world is being amongst others. To achieve the same goal, Jews must find a way to rid themselves of all traces of choseness and exceptionalism. And here is the Jewish dilemma once again – when Jews do that, when they drift away from choseness, they become ordinary boring humans, they stop being Jews they become Goyim. Some Jews in the past have chosen this path – they have successfully blended into the universal.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

How Britain Finances Al Qaeda

Going Underground: Vanessa Beeley on UK money supporting Al Qaeda

by RT


December 9, 2017

Investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley reveals how UK taxpayers’ money supports terrorism. Plus, we read this week’s PMQs!




The Shakin' All Over Ain't Over 'til It's All Over!

China, Saudi Arabia and the US: Shake Up and Shake Down

by James Petras  - ICH


December 09, 2017


Major changes are roiling the states, societies and ruling classes of the biggest industrial economies, oil regimes and military complexes.

China is re-allocating its economic wealth toward building the most extensive modern infrastructure system in history, linking four continents. Saudi Arabia is transferring a trillion dollars of pillage from princes to princes, from old business parasites to up-to-date versions, from austere desert mirages to fantasies of new mega-cities.

The United States is emptying the swamp of the Capital’s corruption and immediately replenishing it with the scandal of the day.

One Cabinet Secretary is fired; another Secretary is hired; one enemy is embraced; an ally denounced; the stock market flourishes and trade agreements are abandoned. One tax is sliced and pleases the powerful; another is spliced and chokes the consumers.

Turmoil, some would say; chaos, others would claim. And the stouthearted argue, that’s the way the world turns round.

But for all the world’s current ‘shaking’, there is substance and direction: There are models for the shaking-up and paradigms for the shaking down.

‘Shaking up’ occurs where visions of wealth and prosperity accompany science and discovery.

‘Shaking down’ is where the science of palace coups and the art of bloody intrigues fleece the poor while enriching and amusing the powerful.

The Art and Artist of the Shake Down


The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), pursues a new policy of scientific, systematic, large-scale and long-term shakedown (SD). Science is evident in these procedures, in their rigorous identification of targets and their efficient methodology of securing subjects and achieving success.

MBS and his associates launched their policy of SD in several well-planned stages.




First, they cloaked the entire SD operation as part of the vast transformation of the Kingdom, accompanied by a string of Western buzzwords: modernization of a traditional society; cleansing the suites of corruption; diversifying the oil dependent economy; privatizing ARAMCO; and replacing camels and tents with a state-of-the-art mega city in the desert.

MBS thus moved to seize state power as the final act in an operation starting with a wave of shakedowns.

The Princes-in-waiting experienced the initial shakedown.

In orderly fashion, MBS wielded his royal sword on behalf of righteousness (according to his adoring fans in the Western press, like Thomas Friedman): Scores of corrupt princes and hundreds of the business and military elite were arrested (or abducted for ransom . . . and safe keeping).

The ‘shakedown’ was underway, but the captives were held in circumstances worthy of their status. The abduction, imprisonment and plea-bargaining for ransom and release took place in the 5-star Riyadh Ritz-Hilton.

The MBS meritocratic modernizers (MM) held the highest degrees in finance and accounting and were adept at calculating appropriate ransoms from each and every captive. The MM demanded hundreds of millions from the billionaires while the generals settled for an early retirement, stripped of pensions and commands. Upon payment and release, the newly fleeced Saudi Princelings fled to the brothels of Beirut to receive un-brotherly comfort. They were freed on one condition: They would return some of the Kingdom’s pillage to fund a ‘New Class’ in a ‘New Arabia’ under the Crown Prince MBS.

However, Western investors, who quietly kept their snouts in the ‘traditional trough’ of Saudi wealth, were not sure where they stood with MBS and his meritocratic modernizers. They needed to know, for the sake of their stockholders: Were they victims or beneficiaries of the big shakedown? Were they condemned to suffer among the corrupt billionaires or granted entry into the new realm of the virtuous Prince?

MBS may have carried out the largest shakedown in recent times, in the name of justice, but there are still no signs of a diversified, modern and prosperous society arising on the Arabian Peninsula. In some places, there rose a more diverse variety of shakedown artists and plotters: Many, who applaud the Crown Prince, await their share of the loot. In other parts of the peninsula, MBS continues to deliver famine, cholera and desperation and rain down bombs on the people of Yemen. If Israel could turn the remnant of Palestine into an open-air prison for periodic slaughter, MBS could find his own ‘Palestinians’ in Yemen for target practice.

China: The Shake Up


China is in the throes of one, two, many upheavals: Over one million high and low ranking officials and millionaires, who levied their own ‘private tax’ on the public treasury, will celebrate another Chinese New Year – in jail.

Meanwhile, over 25 billion dollars has been spent on innovative high tech projects, reshaping the economy, reducing pollution and expanding the welfare state.

Over one trillion dollars is being spent on huge global infrastructure projects linking China to four continents in an integrated network of trade – The One Road-One Belt Network.

China is the polar-opposite of Saudi Arabia: In place of state-sponsored ransom and blackmail (the ‘shakedown’) China is experiencing a monumental ‘shake-up’ – spending money in multiple directions. There are overseas projects to promote trade relations; upward projects linking business to high technology and greater profits; downward projects to train and expand the skilled labor force, reduce pollution, increase social welfare, save lives and increase productivity.

Unlike the US, China has nourished its manufacturing sector, and not starved it of investment. The average factory in the US is twice as old as those in China. To even dream of catching up with Chinese production, the US would have to invest over $115 billion a year in manufacturing for the next three decades.

Limited access to investment capital will condemn the tens of thousands of small and medium size manufacturing enterprises in the US to low productivity and reduced exports.

In contrast, the Chinese government directs investment capital widely to manufacturers of all sizes and shapes. Moreover, local Chinese manufacturers connect readily to the supply chain with big exporters. China provides explicit incentives to exporters to work with local suppliers to ensure that profits are re-invested in the home market.

In the US, the multinational suppliers are located out of the country and their earnings are hoarded overseas. Whenever profits return to the US, these are directed into buybacks of shares and dividends for the stockholders —not into new production.

Beijing manages debt, raising and limiting it to promote dynamic development with a level of efficiency unmatched in the US.

China keeps a close eye on excessive debt, speculation and investment, in contrast to the unrestrained chaos of the so-called ‘free market’ of the US and its parasitical allies, the Saudi coupon–clipping shakedown artists.

The US: The Political Economy of Scandalous Conspiracies and ‘Flight Capitalism’


The chaotic free-for-all in the US political economy is manipulated by scandalmongers, conspirators and flight capitalists. Instead of preparing an economic plan to ‘make America great again’, they have embraced the political blackmailers and intriguers of Saudi Arabia in a sui-generis global political alliance. Both countries feature purges, resignations and pugnacious politicos who have never been weaned from the destructive bosom of war.

As a point of history, the United States didn’t start out as a bloated, speculative state of crony capitalists and parasitical allies: The US was once a powerful industrial country, harnessing finance and overseas investments to securing raw materials for domestic industries and directing profits back into industry for higher productivity.

Fake, or semi-fake, political rivalries and electoral competition counted little as incumbents retained their positions most of the time, and bi-partisan agreements ensured stability through sharing the spoils of office.

Things have changed. Overseas neo-colonies started to offer more than just raw materials: They introduced low-tax manufacturing sites promising free access to cheap, healthy and educated workers. US manufacturers abandoned Old Glory, invested overseas, hoarded profits in tax havens and happily evaded paying taxes to fund a new economy for displaced US workers. Simultaneously, finance reversed its relation to industry: Industrial capital was now harnessed to finance, speculation, real estate, insurance sectors and electronic gadgets/play-by-yourself ‘i-phones’ promoting isolated ‘selfies’ and idle chatter.

Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood replaced Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago. Stockbrokers proliferated, while master tool-and-die makers disappeared and workers’ children overdosed on ‘Oxy’.

In the transition, politicians, who had no connection to domestic industry, found a powerful niche promoting overseas wars for allies, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, and disseminating domestic spats, intrigues and conspiracies to the voters. Vietnam and Watergate, Afghanistan and Volker, Iran-Contra and Reaganomics, Yugoslavia and Iraq, daily drone strikes and bombings and Bill Clinton’s White House sex scandals giving salacious birth to Special Prosecutors . . .

In this historic transformation, American political culture put on a new face: perpetual wars, Wall Street swindles and Washington scandals. It culminated in the farcical Hillary Clinton – Donald Trump presidential election campaign: the war goddess-cuckquean of chaos versus the crotch-grabbing real-estate conman.

The public heard Secretary of State Clinton’s maniacal laugh upon her viewing the ‘snuff-film’ torture and slaughter of the wounded Libya’s President Gadhafi: She crowed: ‘We came, we saw…and he died’ with a sword up his backside. This defined the Clinton doctrine in foreign affairs, while slaughter of the welfare state and the bloated prison industry would define her domestic agenda.

Trump’s presidential election campaign went about the country pleasuring the business and finance elite (promises of tax cuts, deregulations, re-contamination and jacking up the earth’s temperature with a handful of jobs), and successfully pushed aside the outrage over his crude rump grabbing boasts.

Wars, Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood all gathered to set the parameters of the United States’ political economy: The chase was on!

The Clinton sleuths uncovered an army of Russian conspirators running Trump’s electoral campaign, writing his speeches, typing his ‘Tweets’, designing his tactics and successfully directing the votes of millions of duped ‘deplorables’ – the rural and rust-belt poor.

The entire media world auto-pleasured their friends and allies with the Trump Administration’s political strip tease, shedding appointees, dumping nominees and misdirecting policies with a string of revelations. According to dubious anecdotes, the Special Prosecutor uncovered Russian conspiracies to enlist Salvation Army bell ringers and Washington lobbyists. The ‘deplorables’ meanwhile tuned out in disgust.

Trump retaliated with midnight Tweets and appointed a clutch of retired Generals, who had been battle-seasoned in Obama’s seven losing wars and even found a loudmouth South Carolina belle to evoke visions of mushroom clouds in the United Nations. Naturally, there was the coterie of Zionist advisers from the ‘think tanks’ and from his own family working double time to set US-Middle East policy on the road to new wars.

Trump’s Generals and Zionists on the one hand and the Democrats, liberals, anti-fascists and leftists formed the ‘resistance’ and fought fiercely for freedom: Freedom to direct the state to censor alternative news or informed discussion debunking the canard about Russian meddling, exposing Ukraine’s land grabs, proving Iran’s compliance to the nuclear deal and Tel Aviv’s baseless warnings about Tehran. Bolstered by the President’s Chief Advisor Son-in-Law, Jared Kushner, the Saudi Crown Prince was praised for kidnapping the Lebanese Prime Minister and forcing his resignation. Everyday there was a new scandal, conspiracy upon conspiracy and, of course, fake news blaring out from all sides of corporate media and NPR.

The threat of war spreads across the Middle East: How many families would the unholy trinity of Saudi Arabia-US-Israel slaughter, starve or incarcerate in Yemen, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan? Drowned out by domestic scandals and conspiracies – this carnage did not happen – in the news. While scores of thousands in Yemen suffered from cholera amidst a brutal Saudi blockade, The Washington Post – NY Times CBS-NBC-ABC published the same front-page photo of Trump’s clumsy handshake at the APEC Conference. At least, the trillion-dollar corporate-oligarch tax cut merited a jolly Tweet from the Donald.

The Big Shakedown is all about the swindles and the sex designed to keep Wall Street safe, the Pentagon at war and the public distracted.

Conclusion


Three countries are shaking the world in different directions:

In Saudi Arabia, MBS is engaged in a region-shattering shakedown, picking the pockets of Princes for a trillion dollars of unearned and pilfered oil rents to finance more cholera, starvation and mass murder in Yemen and beyond.

Through China, there is a Eurasian ‘shakeup’ as Beijing expands modern Silk-Roads everywhere and with everyone to connect markets, develop supply chains and increase prosperity at home and among its trade partners.

And the US just shakes . . . and trembles as its leaders rush to further enrich the ultra-rich, conspire to uncover conspiracies upon plot, scandalize the scandalmongers and tell us that freedom really means the freedom to expose and gnaw over the sordid acts of petty perverts while hiding much greater truths and reality. Official truth has become a stinking mound of offal.

One can only hope for a great ‘shaking off’. 



James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York. https://petras.lahaine.org

Friday, December 08, 2017

From Strength to Weakness: Russia Brokers End of Syria War, While Washington Fades into Background

Mideast Peacemaking is No Longer Made-in-America

by Sharmine Narwani - The American Conservative


December 8, 2017

The U.S. lost the military gamble in Syria; now it appears to be ceding its diplomatic edge, too.

As 2017 comes to a close, the warring parties in Syria are moving towards reconciliation—but the U.S. is not among them. The Islamic State is all but defeated, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies are now closing in on the few remaining pockets occupied by other extremists, and Iranians, Russians, and Turks are mapping out the peace to come.


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L),
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R)
shake hands prior to the Syria talks in Sochi.
Credit: CreartiveCommons/www.kremlin.ru.

Then there’s America. Donald Trump may have hinted at changes up his sleeve, but he’s treading the same tired path as his predecessor on Syria.

Determined to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a means to weaken Iran and re-establish U.S. regional hegemony, Barack Obama’s White House placed its bets on two pathways to this goal: 1) a military strategy to wrest control over Syria from the regime, and 2) a UN-sponsored and U.S.-backed mediation in Geneva to transition Assad out.

Washington lost its military gamble when the Russian air force entered the battle in September 2015, providing both game-changing air cover and international clout to Assad’s efforts.

So the U.S. turned its hand to resuscitating a limp Geneva peace process that might have delivered a Syrian political settlement sans Assad.

Instead, two years on, the tables have turned in this sphere, too. Today, it is the Iranians, Turks, and Russians leading reconciliation efforts in Syria through a process established in Astana and continued last week in Sochi—not Geneva. The three states have transformed the ground war by isolating key extremists, carving out ceasefire zones, and negotiating deals to keep the peace.

To nobody’s surprise, the Americans are neither part of this new initiative, nor have they offered any constructive counters. Meanwhile, the UN’s Geneva framework, after eight rounds of talks, has not once been able to bring the two Syrian sides face-to-face at the Big Table.

To illustrate, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, who leads these talks, now says things like this with a straight face: “We have started very close proximity parallel meetings. In fact, I have been shuttling between two rooms at a distance of five meters from each other.”

In short, the U.S.’s Syrian efforts have hit a brick wall, while new regional and international power brokers have stepped in to pick up the slack.

Geneva: A process designed to fail


Just one week ago, with great media fanfare, we were promised a fresh start and new twists in Syria. For the first time since the Geneva I conference launched in June 2012, we were told the opposition was “unified” and there were no “pre-conditions” that might hold up talks.

Those expectations were shattered almost immediately when various Syrian opposition members went off-message and insisted that “Assad must go” at some point during a future transition period. Unified they were not. And the Syrian government didn’t hide their disgust. They arrived a day late and scurried back to Damascus just as quickly.

And here is why Geneva negotiations will never, ever get off the ground.

Firstly, the “Syrian opposition” do not actually represent “the Syrian people.” Most of these individuals have been selected by foreign governments—until recently, mainly by U.S. allies in Riyadh, Doha, Ankara—to do their bidding in Geneva, and have been “elected” by no more than a few dozen other Syrians in foreign capitals.

UN envoy de Mistura didn’t bother to hide that fact last week when he thanked the Saudis for facilitating “the establishment of a unified opposition delegation.”

The UN-led process—like the U.S. administration—has created conditions that exclude Syria’s more independent and nationalistic domestic opposition from negotiations. These are people who have largely rejected foreign intervention and the militarization of the conflict, rail against Western-imposed sanctions, and signal actual readiness to talk to Assad’s government about the reforms they desire.

The Russians and Iranians have kept open channels to these individuals and groups, and many of them have beaten a path to Moscow over the years to strike compromises and seek solutions. A few even made the cut, for the first time, at this eighth round of Geneva talks.

Secondly, the Syrian opposition have lost the war—victors decide the peace, not the vanquished. The team sitting in Geneva seems oblivious to the fact that the Syrian government and its allies have now gained an almost-irreversible military advantage on the battlefield. These are not two parties on equal footing—and no great-power mentors in the world can change that fact.

Assad’s government has said on numerous occasions that it is willing to sit with any Syrian who comes without preconditions and negotiates in good faith. Years of “reconciliations” on the ground between the government, local citizens, NGOs, friendly foreign state-guarantors, and rebel fighters lend a proven track record to those claims. This is the format for future negotiations—it is a tested, homegrown Syrian solution, not one made-in-America-or-Riyadh.

“Ceasefires” struck in Astana


The breakthrough came in late 2016. Turkey, the main adversary state through which weapons and jihadists flowed into Syria, made a U-turn on its Syria strategy, driven by U.S. military support for Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, which Ankara views as a national security threat. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a tactical engagement with Russia and Iran, and pulled Qatar and its respective Syrian rebel allies along with him. These moves tipped the balance on the battlefield, allowing the SAA and its allies to liberate Aleppo (a turning point in the war) and launch their ultimately successful campaign against ISIS.

Shortly afterward, delegations consisting of the Syrian government and a dozen opposition rebel factions convened in Astana, Kazakhstan, for indirect talks sponsored by Turkey, Iran, and Russia.

By early May, the three countries had signed a memorandum to establish four “de-escalation zones” in rebel-occupied areas in Syria. The zones cover key hotspots in northern Homs, southern Syria, eastern Ghouta, and Idlib province, and are renewable at six-month intervals. While some armed groups have rejected the concept, the de-escalation zones have largely succeeded at halting hostilities and, importantly, have helped create separation between extremists and rebels willing to participate in ceasefires.

Furthermore, for the more than two million people believed to reside in these zones, the Astana process also guarantees humanitarian and medical access, the return of displaced persons to their towns and homes, the reconstruction of vital infrastructure, and other benefits.

In July, the U.S. and Jordan joined Russia to broker the details of the southern Syrian de-escalation zone, with a joint command established in Jordan. And in September, Iran, Russia, and Turkey agreed to implement the fourth and final de-escalation zone in Idlib, a stronghold of the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra terrorist group.

In short, within eight months, four key areas of Syria demilitarized under the watch of three countries: Turkey, a major supporter of Syrian opposition militants, and Iran and Russia, both close allies of the Syrian government.

A “political solution” in Sochi next?


Ceasefires are, incidentally, one of the two primary objectives of the Geneva process. They are the military part of a Syrian solution.

The other objective is the political settlement of the Syrian conflict, envisioned by Geneva’s architects as the establishment of a transitional government that would generate a revised constitution, prepare elections, and the like.

Last week, on the eve of Geneva-8, the three Astana sponsors convened in Sochi after an unexpected meeting there between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin that appeared to signal an official Syrian approval for what came next.

In a joint statement, the presidents of Iran, Russia, and Turkey called for a “Syrian National Dialogue Congress” to be held in Sochi in the near future, consisting of the Syrian government and “the opposition that are committed to the sovereignty, independence, unity, territorial integrity and non-fractional character of the Syrian state.”

While they were careful to point out that the initiative is intended to “complement” Geneva, not act as an “alternative,” the statement also made clear that “Iran, Russia and Turkey will consult and agree on participants of the Congress.”

Will this be another rubber-stamped opposition directed by foreign mentors? An informed source says no, “any Syrian who does not exclude him or herself can participate.”

It is highly likely that hardliners and extremists will exclude themselves from the Sochi talks—they have consistently rejected direct interactions with the Syrian government and will never accept a future with Assad at the helm. Instead, Sochi is likely to draw interest from a larger cross-section of Syrian society closer to the views of Syria’s traditional domestic opposition, who were never given a chance in Geneva.

In the end, it is altogether conceivable that a final Syrian political solution will look very similar to the reforms Assad offered up in 2011 and 2012. His proposals were never given the time or space to mature and were, at the time, rejected outright by foreign governments and their Syrian allies.

But most importantly, if Sochi can finish what Geneva could never start, we will be thrust into a genuine post-American era where alternative regional actors will be able to broker globally significant peace deals.

The resolution of a conflict of this magnitude largely outside the umbrella of a UN- or U.S.-led framework breaks with the assumption that major geopolitical solutions need be made-in-America.

The most common refrain in a disgruntled Middle East today is that “Americans don’t solve conflicts, they manage them.”

Trump this week forever dispelled the notion that America is an honest mediator in Middle East peace efforts when he unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It is not surprising that the Saudis, Jordanians, Qataris, Sudanese, Egyptians, and others are now beating a path to Moscow for some fresh thinking.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Mideast geopolitics based in Beirut.