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Obama’s Non-Closing of Gitmo

The New York Times' Charlie Savage reported yesterday that the State Department "reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and will not replace him". That move obviously confirms what has long been assumed: that the camp will remain open indefinitely and Obama's flamboyant first-day-in-office vow will go unfulfilled. Dozens of the current camp detainees have long been cleared by Pentagon reviews for release - including Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a 36-year-old Yemeni who died at the camp in September after almost 11 years in a cage despite never having been charged with a crime. Like so many of his fellow detainees, his efforts to secure his release were vigorously (and successfully) thwarted by the Obama administration.An image of President Barack Obama is put up in the lobby of the headquarters of the US naval station at Guantánamo Bay. (Photograph: Brennan Linsley/AP)

Perfectly symbolizing the trajectory of the Obama presidency, this close-Guantánamo envoy will now "become the department's coordinator for sanctions policy". Marcy Wheeler summarizes the shift this way: "Rather than Close Gitmo, We'll Just Intercept More Medical Goods for Iran". She notes that this reflects "how we've changed our human rights priorities". Several days ago, Savage described how the Obama DOJ is ignoring its own military prosecutors' views in order to charge GITMO detainees in its military commissions with crimes that were not even recognized as violations of the laws of war.

Whenever the subject is raised of Obama's failure to close Gitmo, the same excuse is instantly offered on his behalf: he tried to do so but Congress (including liberals like Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders) thwarted him by refusing to fund the closing. As I documented at length last July, this excuse is wildly incomplete and misleading. When it comes to the failure to close Gitmo, this "Congress-prevented-Obama" claim has now taken on zombie status - it will never die no matter how clearly and often it is debunked - but it's still worth emphasizing the reality.

I won't repeat all of the details, citations and supporting evidence - see here - but there are two indisputable facts that should always be included in this narrative. The first is that what made Guantánamo such a travesty of justice was not its geographic locale in the Caribbean Sea, but rather its system of indefinite detention: that people were put in cages, often for life, without any charges or due process. Long before Congress ever acted, Obama's plan was to preserve and continue that core injustice - indefinite detention - but simply moved onto US soil.

Put simply, Obama's plan was never to close Gitmo as much as it was to re-locate it to Illinois: to what the ACLU dubbed "Gitmo North". That's why ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said of Obama's 2009 "close-Gitmo" plan that it "is hardly a meaningful step forward" and that "while the Obama administration inherited the Guantánamo debacle, this current move is its own affirmative adoption of those policies." That's because, he said, "the administration plans to continue its predecessor's policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial for some detainees, with only a change of location."

And the reason Democratic Senators such as Feingold voted against funding Gitmo's closing wasn't because they were afraid to support its closing. It was because they refused to fund the closing until they saw Obama's specific plan, because they did not want to support the importation of Gitmo's indefinite detention system onto US soil, as Obama expressly intended.

In sum, Obama's "closing Gitmo" plan was vintage Obama: a pretty symbolic gesture designed to enable Democrats to feel good while retaining the core powers that constituted the injustice in the first place. As the ACLU's Romero said: "shutting down Guantánamo will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue its lawless policies onshore." Again, had Obama had his way - had Congress immediately approved his plan in full - the system of indefinite detention that makes Gitmo such a disgrace would have continued in full, just in a different locale.

Reading the full article with updates at The Guardian

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald

Forced Contraception of Jewish Ethopian Women Is Tip of Global Iceberg

The hands of an Ethiopian Jewish woman during 'Sigd' prayers in Jerusalem. A report has revealed 'Ethiopian women have been given injections of Depo-Provera without sufficient understanding of the purpose or side effects of the drug'. (Photograph: Dan Balilty/AP)Should gynaecologists need to be told not to give women contraceptive injections without establishing fully informed consent? Of course not. But that is what has happened in Israel after it was revealed in a report by a women's rights organisation that Ethiopian women have been given injections of Depo-Provera without sufficient understanding of the purpose or side effects of the drug. Some Ethiopian women in transit camps were refused entry to the country if they refused the injection, and others wrongly believed they were being inoculated against disease. While Israeli demographers discuss the need to "preserve a clear and undisputed Jewish majority among Israel's total population", it may seem anomalous that women in the Jewish Ethiopian population are forced or coerced into using this highly effective contraceptive method.

However, the conclusions of the report, written by Hedva Eyal, are that the injections given to Ethiopian women are "a method of reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor".

Many people may be unaware that the Israeli case is merely the tip of a global iceberg of human rights abuses in the field of reproductive health. Forced sterilisation of people with learning disabilities and people of minority ethnic groups was documented across Europe and the US in the 20th century. Under the state of emergency in India between 1975 and 1977, thousands of men and millions of women were bribed, coerced and sometimes forced to undergo sterilisation. As recently as 1996 in Peru, a demographic policy led to a sevenfold increase in sterilisations in just two years, effected through widespread violations of women's rights. A provider explained: "Many [providers] did not inform women that they were going to be sterilised – they told them the procedure was something else. But I felt this was wrong. I preferred to offer women a bag of rice to convince them to accept the procedure and explained to them beforehand what was going to happen."

And on into the 21st century. What litany of coercive practice would be complete without reference to China's one-child policy, the violent implementation of which was highlighted in two particularly horrific cases last year? From Uzbekistan also come reports that doctors working to quotas have been sterilising women without their consent during caesareans. Likewise in 2010, HIV-positive South African women reported being sterilised while undergoing caesareans, abortions or shortly after childbirth without their knowledge. Others were made to consent under duress: "She [the nurse] snatched something that I wanted, you know? She made up a choice. She made up a choice for me." These are just the abuses that spring to mind – many more are being reported around the world.

The flipside of these is the concerted attempt by reactionary groups to deny women access to reproductive and contraceptive healthcare altogether. Right now Republican politicians in the US are fighting for the right of employers to refuse women contraceptive cover in their health insurance, and clogging up state legislatures around the country with bills aimed at eradicating abortion services. It has taken 15 years to pass a reproductive health bill in the Philippines that will allow poor women access to affordable contraception for the first time: the Catholic church fought it every step of the way and began its campaign to overturn the bill minutes after it was passed. Meanwhile 47,000 women a year die from complications of unsafe abortion in countries where abortion is legally restricted, or where services are inadequate to meet their needs. In Latin America, women and doctors are imprisoned for having or providing abortions, and women such as Savita Halappanavar are dying unnecessarily because of laws that prevent the termination of pregnancies that are life-threatening – even when they are not viable.

These cases are all connected – whatever the detail, wherever they are happening. They are all indicative of a fundamental disregard for women's lives. Forcing women to bear children, or preventing them from doing so, denying them life-saving treatment during pregnancy, or carrying out medical interventions without establishing informed consent, these all threaten women's safety, dignity and bodily integrity. They are serious violations of women's reproductive and human rights and must not be supported or countenanced by governments or doctors any more.

US Imperialism, International Law and the United Nations

liberty statue gun

The broad principles underlying the United Nations (UN) are noble and peaceful. They have unfortunately been perverted from the UN’s inception.

The UN is currently being used as an instrument of domination by several permanent member States of the UN Security Council.

According to the Charter’s Preamble the UN was established:

“to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war [...] to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained [...]” (Charter of the United Nations)

The UN General Assembly (GA) is democratic. One country, one vote. Unfortunately, even if it represents all 193 member states and passes very important resolutions, its members often follow the diktats of the powerful nations on which they depend financially.

The GA has no power. The latter lies in the self-given authority of the five permanent members of the Security Council (U.S.,UK, France, Russia, China), the only ones in possession of the very arbitrary and very powerful veto.

The astonishing number of resolutions passed by the GA regarding Israel have had no effect whatsoever and have invariably been blocked by the US at the Security Council (SC).

In his historic speech at the UN in 2009, which the New York Times unfairly qualified as “rambling”, the late Muammar Gaddafi rightfully and virulently criticized the unjust and contradictory nature of the UN:

The Preamble is very appealing, and no one objects to it, but all the provisions that follow it completely contradict the Preamble. We reject such provisions, and we will never uphold them; they ended with the Second World War. The Preamble says that all nations, small or large, are equal. Are we equal when it comes to the permanent seats? No, we are not equal.

[…] Do we have the right of veto? Are we equal? The Preamble says that we have equal rights, whether we are large or small.

That is what is stated and what we agreed in the Preamble. So the veto contradicts the Charter. The permanent seats contradict the Charter. We neither accept nor recognize the veto.

The Preamble of the Charter states that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest. That is the Preamble that we agreed to and signed, and we joined the United Nations because we wanted the Charter to reflect that. It says that armed force shall only be used in the common interest of all nations, but what has happened since then? Sixty-five wars have broken out since the establishment of the United Nations and the Security Council — 65 since their creation, with millions more victims than in the Second World War. Are those wars, and the aggression and force that were used in those 65 wars, in the common interest of us all? No, they were in the interest of one or three or four countries, but not of all nations. (Muammar Gaddafi cited in Who is Muammar Al-Qadhafi: Read his Speech to the UN General Assembly, Global Research, March 23, 2011)

It is worth noting that the Libyan leader was killed during the 2012 NATO military invasion, which had been been approved by the Security Council. Three of the SC”s permanent members namely the U.S., the UK and France, participated in this NATO led invasion.

According to Mahmoud Jibril, Libya’s interim Prime Minister during the Western-backed armed insurrection in 2011, Gaddafi was killed by a French intelligence operative “acting under direct instructions of the French government”.

French President “Sarkozy was eager to prevent the possibility of Gaddafi standing trial, particularly after the Libyan leader had threatened to expose his alleged financial dealings with the French President”. (Joseph Fitsanakis, Did French intelligence agent kill Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi?, intelNews.org, October 2, 2012.)

These allegations are not surprising since France played a leading role in the invasion of Libya.

Was the war on Libya, like the other wars Gaddafi mentioned, “in the common interest of us all” or “in the interest of one or three or four countries”?

Libya was invaded and its leader killed for many reasons, all of which were of financial and geostrategic nature. Mahdi Nazemroaya explains how only a few nations, most of all the U.S., control the UN:

The manipulation of the United Nations for imperialist interests, […] goes back a long way. From its inception, the United Nations was meant to facilitate the global influence of the US after the Second World War. [...]

The UN was used as a tool to control most these former Western European and American colonies of the Third World. At first the US and its post-war allies maintained their domination over the newly formed UN and the former colonies through their numbers and then through a Western Bloc monopoly over the structures of the United Nations. Hereto this monopoly includes control over the agencies and permanent veto-wielding chairs of the fifteen-member Security Council of the United Nations.

The Security Council above all has been used by the US as a means of protecting its interests. The purpose of the Security Council veto is to reject any international resolutions and consensuses against the national interests (or more precisely the interests of the ruling elites) of the US and the other major post-World War II powers [...]

As the Western Bloc began to lose its numerical advantage, control over the Secretariat would be maintained through the Security Council. The UN Security Council does this by filtering all the candidates for the top UN post in the Secretariat. Secretaries-general of the UN are appointed by the UN General Assembly based on the recommendation of the UN Security Council. Thus, the US and other permanent members of the Security Council have vetoes that can eliminate any candidates that would be hostile to their interests. (Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, America’s Takeover of the United Nations, Press TV 3 September 2012.)

The selection process of the UN Secretary-General reveals why those in office espouse concepts such as the so-called “responsibility to protect” (R2P), which actually refers to “military invasion”, and why they fail to act as “spokesm[e]n for the interests of the world’s peoples, in particular the poor and vulnerable among them”, as their position requires. If R2P had been drafted with genuine intent, it would have been invoked to protect Palestinians against the permanent Israeli aggression. Under Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretariat has rather endorsed Israeli agressions and approved the illegal blockade of Gaza. Kofi Annan was “an enabler of ‘responsibility to protect’” and Ban Ki-moon its “executioner”, Nazemroaya argues.

In regards to both Libya and Syria, Ban Ki-moon has followed the US and NATO script for R2P and regime change. When a major propaganda effort was launched against Syria following the Houla Massacre, Ban Ki-moon and other UN officials quickly followed the US line and condemned Damascus at a special session of the UN General Assembly in New York City. (Ibid.)

Ronda Hauben details the “mysterious process” by which the Security Council was able to influence the way the UN investigation on the Houla massacre was conducted and how a one-sided version of the events supporting the Western propaganda prevailed:

By a rather mysterious process, the Security Council’s request that an investigation of the Houla massacre, which was to be carried out with the involvement of UNSMIS, was shifted to a significantly different process that was carried out by the Human Rights Council and the Commission of Inquiry it created, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (hereafter CoI). How this shift happened and the significance of this change, merit serious consideration by those who are concerned about the role the UN is playing in the conflict in Syria [...]

Major-General Robert Mood, head of UNSMIS, [...] said that UNSMIS had been to Houla with an investigating team [...] They interviewed locals who told one story. They interviewed locals who told another story. But the circumstances leading up to Houla, the detailed circumstances, the facts related to the incident still remained unclear to the UNSMIS investigators. This led General Mood to say that if there was a decision to support a more extensive on the ground investigation, UNSMIS could help to facilitate it.

In his June 15 press briefing, General Mood said the UNSMIS Report on Houla included statements and interviews with locals with one story and statements and interviews with locals with another story. The August Report of the CoI tells only one story and claims that they either do not have other information or that any other information they know of is inconsistent, so that they have accepted that there is only one story. The Reports that the CoI produced had no on-site interviews or statements, but only telephone or Skype interviews with insurgents or those supporting the account of Houla presented by the armed insurgents. (Ronda Hauben, US-NATO Sponsored Crimes against Humanity in Syria. Coverup by UN Human Rights Council, taz.de,November 28, 2012)

Of all 297 UNSMIS international unarmed military observers on the groundto monitor a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties“, none were from the US. The conditions of the UNSMIS mandate were set by the Security Council, which decided on July 20, 2012 it would allow the mission to be extended only if it confirmed “the cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a reduction in the level of violence sufficient by all sides”. The US must have known those conditions would be impossible to meet since it had itself been providing the rebels with heavy weaponry and contributing to the violence. Even The New York Times ran a story on the CIA arming Syrian rebels on June 21. The UNSMIS mandate was ended on August 19. If the US was not part of the UNSMIS, it was and still is, on the other hand, a member the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). The US possibly used its influent position at the Security Council to request that the HRC takes over the Houla massacre investigation, where it could play a part in its findings and align them with its war agenda.

[T]he US was elected to a second three-year term on the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC). President Bush boycotted the HRC for criticizing Israel too much, but Obama joined in 2010 to ‘improve’ it. US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice welcomed Washington’s re-election this week, saying that the HRC “has delivered real results”, citing its criticism of Syria, though she criticized the rights council’s continued “excessive and unbalanced focus on Israel”. (Eric Walberg, Human Rights: the People vs the UN, November 18, 2012.)

While it should be the guardian and promoter of international law, the UN has shown several times it acts on behalf of the powerful against the powerless. NATO has been manipulating the UN to legitimize its brutal neo-colonial designs and international law is being used in a very selective manner by imperial powers. James Petras explains:

Imperial law supersedes international law simply because imperial law is backed by brute force; it possesses imperial/colonial air, ground and naval armed forces to ensure the supremacy of imperial law.  In contrast, international law lacks an effective enforcement mechanism.

Moreover, international law, to the extent that it is effective, is applied only to the weaker powers and to regimes designated by the imperial powers as ‘violators’. [T]he application and jurisdiction of international law is selective and subject to constraints imposed by the configurations of imperial and national power [...]

To counter the claims and judgments pertaining to international law, especially in the area of theGenevaprotocols such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, imperial legal experts, scholars and judges have elaborated a legal framework to justify or exempt imperial-state activity [...]

This does not imply that imperial rulers totally discard international law: they just apply it selectively to their adversaries, especially against independent nations and rulers, in order to justify imperial intervention and aggression – Hence the ‘legal bases’ for dismantlingYugoslaviaor invadingIraqand assassinating its rulers [...]

Imperial legal doctrine has played a central role in justifying and providing a basis for the exercise of international terrorism.  Executives, such as US Presidents Bush and Obama, have been provided with the legal power to undertake cross-national ‘targeted’ assassinations of opponents using predator drones and ordering military intervention, in clear violation of international law and national sovereignty.  Imperial law, above all else, ‘legalizes’ aggression and economic pillage and undermines the laws of targeted countries, creating lawlessness and chaos among its victims. (James Petras“Legal Imperialism” and International Law: Legal Foundations for War Crimes, Debt Collection and Colonization,December 03, 2012)

On behalf of four men, Canadian and American lawyers recently filed a complaint against Canada with the United Nations Committee against Torture, because the Canadian authorities failed to prosecute George W. Bush during his visit to the country. Considering its strong economic, diplomatic and military ties to the U.S, such a move was not expected from Canada and its inaction demonstrates yet again how the U.S.’ imperial law overcomes international law.

As a signatory to the Convention against Torture, Canada has an obligation to investigate and prosecute a torture suspect on its soil. This is the first time a complaint concerning torture allegations against a high-level U.S. official has been filed with the U.N. Committee. The Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) and the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed the complaint on the men’s behalf.

“Canada has the jurisdiction and the obligation to prosecute a torture suspect present in Canada, including a former head of state, and even one from a powerful country,” said Matt Eisenbrandt, CCIJ’s Legal Director. “Canada’s failure to conduct a criminal investigation and prosecution against Mr. Bush when there was overwhelming evidence against him constitutes a clear violation of its international obligations and its own policy not to be a safe haven for torturers.” (Lawyers against the War, Survivors File U.N. Complaint Against Canada for Failing to Prosecute George W. Bush for Torture The Canadian Centre for International Justice, November 14, 2012.)

Global Research offers its readers a list of selected articles on this very important issue. For more in-depth analysis, visit our archives United Nations and Law and Justice.

Global Research has been committed to peace and justice and over the years has provided its readers with insightful analyses pertaining to the UN, international law and illegal wars. We need your help to continue to fight the brutal domination of a ruling elite willing to send young men and women fight unjust wars of aggression to remain in power through destruction and exploitation. You find our articles useful? Make a donation or become a Global Research member!

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SELECTED ARTICLES

Who is Muammar Al-Qadhafi: Read his Speech to the UN General Assembly, March 23, 2011

America’s Takeover of the United Nations, Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya,  September 3, 2012

US-NATO Sponsored Crimes against Humanity in Syria. Coverup by UN Human Rights Council, Ronda Hauben, November 28, 2012

Human Rights: the People vs the UN, Eric Walberg, November 18, 2012

“Legal Imperialism” and International Law: Legal Foundations for War Crimes, Debt Collection and Colonization, James Petras, December 03, 2012

Survivors File U.N. Complaint Against Canada for Failing to Prosecute George W. Bush for Torture, Lawyers against the War,  November 14, 2012

Hamas Shouldn’t Fire Rockets … But Israel Has Violated HUNDREDS of UN Resolutions, Washington’s Blog, November 20, 2012 

UN General Assembly Vote On Syria: World Gone Unipolar – And Mad, Rick Rozoff, August 06, 2012

Canada’s Vote Opposing UN Recognition of Palestine. Quebec’s Motion to Recognize Palestine Statehood, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, December 05, 2012

UN Vote on Palestine, Stephen Lendman, December 01, 2012

UNESCO Human Rights Conference Honoring Israel’s President Shimon Peres. Four of Five Speakers Pull Out, Ali Abunimah, October 24, 2012

Boycott and Chaos at the United Nations in Geneva: Who Committed War Crimes in Iraq? Dirk Adriaensens, October 03, 2012

The UN and General Mood’s “Missing Report” on Conflicting Accounts of Houla Massacre, Ronda Hauben, September 11, 2012

UN Envoy Brahimi bears Poison Chalice to Syria, Finian Cunningham, September 10, 2012

NAM Summit: Ban Ki-Moon in disgraceful show of US puppetry, Finian Cunningham, August 30, 2012

Can the US and its Allies arbitrarily Violate International Law?, Rick Rozoff and John Robles, August 17, 2012

Terrorism as an Instrument of US Foreign Policy: UN-Backed Rogue States Plan Syria’s Slaughter, Felicity Arbuthnot, August 11, 2012

From the Algerian Terror to Al Qaeda Meets Mali: The West’s Hidden Agenda

mali

When it comes to unfamiliar, far-off places, we trust our mainstream media to tell us what is going on with interminable conflicts raging through much of the world, and why—and most media trust Western governments’ explanations.

Thus, we learn that France (with the United States in the wings) intervened in the bloody upheavals besetting the West African country of Mali in order to help the government battle a threat as ubiquitous and expected as the old Red Menace: Al Qaeda.

But, as is usually true, things are not so simple. In fact, coming to grips with the searing civil war and foreign crisis du jour requires wading through multiple layers of tangled relationships—which threaten to turn the conflict into a yet another protracted, foreign-assisted internecine conflict.

A French soldier explains to Vietnamese (er, Malian) children why he thinks he is in their country

Amid cinematic gun battles claiming the lives of dozens of Western hostages at a gas field in neighboring Algeria, the world may be finally waking up to the complexity of the Malian crisis. Yet many of those who have studied the region in depth saw it coming. “This has for a very long time been an accident waiting to happen,” says Professor David Anderson, an expert of African politics at St Cross College, the University of Oxford.

And no wonder. Because, as always seems to be the case, these benighted and barren provinces sit atop some rather spectacular wealth.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

West Side Story

The current conflict long predates (and ultimately will transcend) the recent-vintage Al Qaeda and all of its amorphous and poorly-defined franchise operations.

For decades now, the Tuaregs—a native Berber tribe whose members are spread across the vast expanse of the Sahara desert—have launched periodic rebellions to gain independence from Mali, Niger, Algeria and other countries in the region, whose territories incorporate lands the Tuaregs claim as their own.

The current crisis may be said to have its roots in another Western intervention, when France, the United States and allies—notably including Islamists with Al Qaeda ties—invaded Mali’s northern neighbor, Libya, under pretenses of protecting a domestic uprising and vanquished the quasi-socialist leader there, Muammar Qaddafi, who had, among other things angered Western financial and business interests. (For more on that poorly understood story, see WhoWhatWhy’s reports, here and here.)

Malian Tuaregs, reinforced by a large contingent of their well-trained and heavily armed non-AlQaedite brethren—who had escaped from Libya after their benefactor, Qaddafi, was routed in 2011–captured the entire northern part of the country early last year.

On April 6, 2012, the Tuaregs in the north declared independence for their territory—which is larger than the state of Texas. By early June, however, clashes had broken out between the secular Tuareg movement (its main representative being the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawa, or MNLA) and Islamists, some of whom are allied with an AQ variant that calls itself Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. The MNLA was pushed out of the main cities, and the Islamists took over the fight against the government.

But wait: things are still more complicated.

Each side consists of many different factions, and many splinter groups add to the complexity. According to some reports, for example, the attack on the Algerian gas field, which ostensibly took place in revenge for the French intervention in Mali, was in fact part of a power struggle between two large Islamist factions, led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abelmalek Droukdel. The Islamist banner is considered by some nothing more than a “legitimate” overlay on a sprawling criminal network that ran kidnap, protection and tobacco smuggling rackets. This mano-a-mano spills over both sides of the border.

More Arcana, Then the Proverbial Pot ‘o Gold

In any case, the president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure, was deposed in March 2012 by the Malian military—ostensibly as a result of his incompetent response to the Tuareg rebellion—an act that seems to have rent a dense web of local and regional relationships. To add a hint of tantalizing but obscure spice, several independent sources suggest that it was actually Toure, with regional and Western acquiescence, who had invited the radical Islamists to use the north as a base.

Consider, for example, the following report from the ground by May Ying Welsh, al-Jazeera’s correspondent:

Al-Qaeda has based itself in northern Mali for 10 years, as part of an alleged secret agreement with Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT), the president of Mali who was deposed in a military coup in March 2012 as northern cities were falling to Tuareg rebels…. While ATT relied increasingly on ethnic militias and special units to crush Tuareg insurgency, the Malian army was starved and demoralised, its hungry soldiers forced to sell their weapons to eat, to watch AQIM parade before their barracks, and planes filled with cocaine landing near their bases. The system was rotten. Could they be blamed for overthrowing it?

Here’s the good news: the explanation for this behavior is simple.

If the Tuaregs in Mali’s north were to achieve independence, this would destabilize all neighboring countries that harbor significant Berber populations. The desert areas inhabited by the nomadic tribes, moreover, contain some of the largest concentrations of valuable natural resources in the world—including gold, uranium, oil, gas, and various industrial metals. Mali alone is the third largest producer of gold in Africa—despite being also one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the United Nations Human Development Index, it ranks 175th of 187 countries, and the standard of living there is considerably below the average for sub-Saharan Africa.

Unlike the Tuaregs, most of the radical Islamists have little interest in independence—they fight largely for the establishment of sharia (Islamic law). For the most part, they are also ruthless against their rivals but avid trading partners—whether in the trade of hostages and cocaine (as has been the case in the region for the last several years) or in natural resources. Despite being a target of the post-9/11 War on Terror, they are often quietly preferred by members of the international community to the more secular local nomads.

It is a delicate balance. Neither the regional countries nor France can allow the Islamists to become too powerful, for fear that they would turn into a destabilizing factor themselves. Their push to take over southern Mali proved to be the last straw, leading to the current intervention.

According to Professor Anderson,

French concerns about wider regional stability are genuine, as are the worries of the Algerian government – who are a major target of some within Al Qaeda. France is the Western power with the strongest geo-political interests and financial investment here. The French have bases in Chad, to give but one example, and fear that instability in Algeria brings it too close to home. [Also they have] 6000 French citizens in Bamako [Mali] alone, [as well as significant] mining interests.

A “French Afghanistan”?

However, the situation could easily spin out of control and become a West African quagmire for France and the neighboring countries which are participating in the UN-sanctioned intervention. The Islamists have threatened to turn Mali into a “French Afghanistan,” and this appears to be more than an empty threat. Mali is almost twice the size of Afghanistan, and with its desert and mountainous terrain in the north, somewhat resembles its Asian counterpart. Central authority was never very well established in that part of the country, if at all.

Robert D. Kaplan, the noted foreign affairs analyst and correspondent, described in a recent Stratfor article his experiences in the region some years ago:

Here the Malian state did not exist. …These aren’t countries so much as city-states—Nouakchott, Bamako, Niamey, Ndjamena—with armies that try to keep some order in the far-flung, far less populated reaches. State armies never have ruled this desert; rather, they have maintained for much of the time a stable cease-fire with the Tuaregs there (often through integration of key Tuareg fighters into local military bases).

The mixture of rugged terrain, a vast expanse populated sparsely with nomadic tribes, and the presence of numerous militias with diverging agendas suggests that the war will be long, brutal and asymmetric.

Thus, when at the start of the operation the French government said that the military was going into Mali merely for several weeks, a colleague who specializes in Russia giggled. “This is exactly what the Russians said before they invaded Afghanistan,” he said. Mere days later, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that his country would continue to be involved in the conflict for “as long as necessary.”

And it all is redolent of foreign adventures past. According to a new report from a French-based human rights group, the “good guys,” i.e. the Malian army, may be carrying out summary executions and brutal abuses of civilians accused—often with no basis—of helping the rebels.

More recently, the MNLA—arguably the only indigenous force capable of taking on the Islamists—suggested through one of its leaders that it was willing to cooperate with the Western intervention forces.

It remains to be seen if a deal can be reached. It seems highly unlikely that the Malian government—or any of the international actors involved—would concede the MNLA’s demand for independence. On the other hand, the secular Tuaregs are reportedly afraid that, as has happened in the past, they will be the main victims of a war against Islamist terror. Given that both sides are under pressure, some sort of a compromise involving an increased autonomy in northern Mali may be possible.

By most accounts, a purely military solution imposed by foreign forces cannot hold. If the intervention forces hope to achieve their goal of stabilizing the country, they would need to negotiate with the Tuaregs and to address the deeper underlying issues. Unfortunately, so far there are few signs of that happening. And the deeper underlying issues do not play well with short-attentioned international audiences.

Oh, wait. Did we mention that there’s gold—and all kinds of amazing stuff, under the ground? Actually, when it comes to that subject, even a dauntingly complex stew like Afghanistan can seem very simple indeed.

Defence Secretary Denies Comparing Gay Marriage To Incest

Philip Hammond has denied comparing gay marriage to incest, ahead of a crunch vote on allowing same-sex weddings.

The defence secretary and Conservative MP was accused making the comments during a meeting with students on Friday.

Joe Rayment, chairman of the Royal Holloway Students’ Union who was present during the talk, said Hammond's remarks came when confronted about his opposition to same-sex marriage.

He said: "I asked him what right the state has to tell two people who are in love that they can’t get married. He said: 'Well, we don’t allow siblings to get married either.'

"We said something along the lines of the fact that homosexuality is nothing like incest. But he skirted over it and he did not apologise for using that comparison."

Also present at the meeting was the union representative for the university's gay community, Jack Saffery-Rowe.

Writing on a blog that night, Saffery-Rowe said: "When questioned why I shouldn’t have the same rights as a heterosexual couple, he brushed the question aside as a ‘silly game’ talking about human rights.

"And when asked why the state should be allowed to say who can and who cannot have their relationship recognised by the law, he retorted that you wouldn’t allow ‘two siblings who loved each other to get married’.

"He equated the love of a same-sex couple with incest..."

A spokesman for Hammond told The Guardian: "It's untrue. He didn't equate equal marriage to incest."

Hammond is alleged to have made the comparison ahead of a Commons vote on same-sex marriage next week, an issue he has previously described as "too controversial".

Students at the University of London Royal Holloway’s Egham campus in Surrey had planned to lobby the minister after he made clear he is against David Cameron's plans to allow gay couples to marry.

According to Pink News, Hammond, who was at the university to talk about British security, was confronted by around 70 students waving pro-gay marriage placards.

Hate Crimes in America (and Elsewhere): A Rape a Minute, a Thousand Corpses a...

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Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large.  Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.

There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a case involving a celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this country, in other countries, on every continent including Antarctica, constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.

If you’d rather talk about bus rapes than gang rapes, there’s the rape of a developmentally disabled woman on a Los Angeles bus in November and the kidnapping of an autistic 16-year-old on the regional transit train system in Oakland, California — she was raped repeatedly by her abductor over two days this winter — and there was a gang rape of multiple women on a bus in Mexico City recently, too.  While I was writing this, I read that another female bus-rider was kidnapped in India and gang-raped all night by the bus driver and five of his friends who must have thought what happened in New Delhi was awesome.

We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible.  But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.
What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Gender

There’s so much of it. We could talk about the assault and rape of a 73-year-old in Manhattan’s Central Park last September, or the recent rape of a four-year-oldand an 83-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who wasarrested in October for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn’t personal (though maybe it was for the San Diego man who actually killed and cooked his wife in November and the man from New Orleans who killed, dismembered, and cooked his girlfriend in 2005).

Those are all exceptional crimes, but we could also talk about quotidian assaults, because though a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country, the estimated total is perhaps five times as high. Which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the U.S.  It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims.

We could talk about high-school- and college-athlete rapes, or campus rapes, to which university authorities have been appallingly uninterested in responding in many cases, including that high school in Steubenville, Notre Dame University,Amherst College, and many others. We could talk about the escalating pandemicof rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the U.S. military, where Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta estimated that there were 19,000 sexual assaults on fellow soldiers in 2010 alone and that the great majority of assailants got away with it, though four-star general Jeffrey Sinclair was indicted in September for “a slew of sex crimes against women.”

Never mind workplace violence, let’s go home.  So many men murder their partners and former partners that we have well over 1,000 homicides of that kind a year — meaning that every three years the death toll tops 9/11’s casualties, though no one declares a war on this particular terror. (Another way to put it: the more than 11,766 corpses from domestic-violence homicides since 9/11 exceed the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the “war on terror.”) If we talked about crimes like these and why they are so common, we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or male roles, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.

Instead, we hear that American men commit murder-suicides — at the rate of about 12 a week — because the economy is bad, though they also do it when the economy is good; or that those men in India murdered the bus-rider because the poor resent the rich, while other rapes in India are explained by how the rich exploit the poor; and then there are those ever-popular explanations: mental problems and intoxicants — and for jocks,head injuries. The latest spin is that lead exposurewas responsible for a lot of our violence, except that both genders are exposed and one commits most of the violence. The pandemic of violence always gets explained as anything but gender, anything but what would seem to be the broadest explanatory pattern of all.

Someone wrote a piece about how white men seem to be the ones who commit mass murders in the U.S. and the (mostly hostile) commenters only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says what this medical study does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family.”

Still, the pattern is plain as day. We could talk about this as a global problem, looking at the epidemic of assaultharassment, and rape of women in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that has taken away the freedom they celebrated during the Arab Spring — and led some men there to form defense teams to help counter it — or the persecution of women in public and private in India from “Eve-teasing” to bride-burning, or “honor killings” in South Asia and the Middle East, or the way that South Africa has become a global rape capital, with an estimated 600,000 rapeslast year, or how rape has been used as a tactic and “weapon” of war in Mali, Sudan, and the Congo, as it was in the former Yugoslavia, or the pervasiveness of rape and harassment in Mexico and the femicide in Juarez, or the denial of basic rights for women in Saudi Arabia and the myriad sexual assaults on immigrant domestic workers there, or the way that the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in the United States revealed what impunity he and others had in France, and it’s only for lack of space I’m leaving out Britain and Canada and Italy (with its ex-prime minister known for his orgies with the underaged), Argentina and Australia and so many other countries.

Who Has the Right to Kill You?

But maybe you’re tired of statistics, so let’s just talk about a single incident that happened in my city a couple of weeks ago, one of many local incidents in which men assaulted women that made the local papers this month:

“A woman was stabbed after she rebuffed a man’s sexual advances while she walked in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood late Monday night, a police spokesman said today. The 33-year-old victim was walking down the street when a stranger approached her and propositioned her, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said. When she rejected him, the man became very upset and slashed the victim in the face and stabbed her in the arm, Esparza said.”

The man, in other words, framed the situation as one in which his chosen victim had no rights and liberties, while he had the right to control and punish her.  This should remind us that violence is first of all authoritarian. It begins with this premise: I have the right to control you.

Murder is the extreme version of that authoritarianism, where the murderer asserts he has the right to decide whether you live or die, the ultimate means of controlling someone.  This may be true even if you are “obedient,” because the desire to control comes out of a rage that obedience can’t assuage. Whatever fears, whatever sense of vulnerability may underlie such behavior, it also comes out of entitlement, the entitlement to inflict suffering and even death on other people. It breeds misery in the perpetrator and the victims.

As for that incident in my city, similar things happen all the time.  Many versions of it happened to me when I was younger, sometimes involving death threats and often involving torrents of obscenities: a man approaches a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed.  The fury and desire come in a package, all twisted together into something that always threatens to turn eros into thanatos, love into death, sometimes literally.

It’s a system of control. It’s why so many intimate-partner murders are of women who dared to break up with those partners.  As a result, it imprisons a lot of women, and though you could say that the attacker on January 7th, or a brutal would-be-rapist near my own neighborhood on January 5th, or another rapist here on January 12th, or the San Franciscan who on January 6th set his girlfriend on firefor refusing to do his laundry, or the guy who was just sentenced to 370 years for some particularly violent rapes in San Francisco in late 2011, were marginal characters, rich, famous, and privileged guys do it, too.

The Japanese vice-consul in San Francisco was charged with 12 felony counts of spousal abuse and assault with a deadly weapon last September, the same month that, in the same town, the ex-girlfriend of Mason Mayer (brother of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer) testified in court: “He ripped out my earrings, tore my eyelashes off, while spitting in my face and telling me how unlovable I am… I was on the ground in the fetal position, and when I tried to move, he squeezed both knees tighter into my sides to restrain me and slapped me.” According to the newspaper, she also testified that “Mayer slammed her head onto the floor repeatedly and pulled out clumps of her hair, telling her that the only way she was leaving the apartment alive was if he drove her to the Golden Gate Bridge ‘where you can jump off or I will push you off.’” Mason Mayer got probation.

This summer, an estranged husband violated his wife’s restraining order against him, shooting her – and six other women — at her spa job in suburban Milwaukee, but since there were only four corpses the crime was largely overlooked in the media in a year with so many more spectacular mass murders in this country (and we still haven’t really talked about the fact that, of 62 mass shootings in the U.S. in three decades, only one was by a woman, because when you say lone gunman, everyone talks about loners and guns but not about men — and by the way, nearly two thirds of all women killed by guns are killed by their partner or ex-partner).

What’s love got to do with it, asked Tina Turner, whose ex-husband Ike once said, “Yeah I hit her, but I didn’t hit her more than the average guy beats his wife.” A woman is beaten every nine seconds in this country. Just to be clear: not nine minutes, but nine seconds. It’s the number-one cause of injury to American women; of the two million injured annually, more than half a million of those injuries require medical attention while about 145,000 require overnight hospitalizations, according to the Center for Disease Control, and you don’t want to know about the dentistry needed afterwards. Spouses are also the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S.

“Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined,” writes Nicholas D. Kristof, one of the few prominent figures to address the issue regularly.

The Chasm Between Our Worlds

Rape and other acts of violence, up to and including murder, as well as threats of violence, constitute the barrage some men lay down as they attempt to control some women, and fear of that violence limits most women in ways they’ve gotten so used to they hardly notice — and we hardly address. There are exceptions: last summer someone wrote to me to describe a college class in which the students were asked what they do to stay safe from rape. The young women described the intricate ways they stayed alert, limited their access to the world, took precautions, and essentially thought about rape all the time (while the young men in the class, he added, gaped in astonishment). The chasm between their worlds had briefly and suddenly become visible.

Mostly, however, we don’t talk about it — though a graphic has been circulating on the Internet called Ten Top Tips to End Rape, the kind of thing young women get often enough, but this one had a subversive twist.  It offered advice like this: “Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone ‘by accident’ you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can call for help.” While funny, the piece points out something terrible: the usual guidelines in such situations put the full burden of prevention on potential victims, treating the violence as a given. You explain to me why colleges spend more time telling women how to survive predators than telling the other half of their students not to be predators.

Threats of sexual assault now seem to take place online regularly. In late 2011, British columnist Laurie Penny wrote, “An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the Internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill, and urinate on you. This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to share their own stories of harassment, intimidation, and abuse.”

Women in the online gaming community have been harassed, threatened, and driven out. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic who documented such incidents, received support for her work, but also, in the words of a journalist, “another wave of really aggressive, you know, violent personal threats, her accounts attempted to be hacked. And one man in Ontario took the step of making an online video game where you could punch Anita’s image on the screen. And if you punched it multiple times, bruises and cuts would appear on her image.” The difference between these online gamers and the Taliban men who, last October, tried to murder 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai for speaking out about the right of Pakistani women to education is one of degree. Both are trying to silence and punish women for claiming voice, power, and the right to participate. Welcome to Manistan.

The Party for the Protection of the Rights of Rapists

It’s not just public, or private, or online either.  It’s also embedded in our political system, and our legal system, which before feminists fought for us didn’t recognize most domestic violence, or sexual harassment and stalking, or date rape, or acquaintance rape, or marital rape, and in cases of rape still often tries the victim rather than the rapist, as though only perfect maidens could be assaulted — or believed.

As we learned in the 2012 election campaign, it’s also embedded in the minds and mouths of our politicians.  Remember that spate of crazy pro-rape thingsRepublican men said last summer and fall, starting with Todd Akin’s notorious claim that a woman has ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of rape, a statement he made in order to deny women control over their own bodies. After that, of course, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock claimed that rape pregnancies were “a gift from God,” and just this month, another Republican politician piped up to defendAkin’s comment.

Happily the five publicly pro-rape Republicans in the 2012 campaign all lost their election bids. (Stephen Colbert tried to warn them that women had gotten the vote in 1920.)  But it’s not just a matter of the garbage they say (and the price they now pay).  Earlier this month, congressional Republicans refused to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, because they objected to the protection it gave immigrants, transgendered women, and Native American women.  (Speaking of epidemics, one of three Native American women will be raped, and on the reservations 88% of those rapes are by non-Native men who know tribal governments can’t prosecute them.)

And they’re out to gut reproductive rights — birth control as well as abortion, as they’ve pretty effectively done in many states over the last dozen years. What’s meant by “reproductive rights,” of course, is the right of women to control their own bodies. Didn’t I mention earlier that violence against women is a control issue?

And though rapes are often investigated lackadaisically – there is a backlog of about 400,000 untested rape kits in this country– rapists who impregnate their victims have parental rights in 31 states. Oh, and former vice-presidential candidate and current congressman Paul Ryan (R-Manistan) is reintroducing a bill that would give states the right to ban abortions and might even conceivably allow a rapist to sue his victim for having one.

All the Things That Aren’t to Blame

Of course, women are capable of all sorts of major unpleasantness, and there are violent crimes by women, but the so-called war of the sexes is extraordinarily lopsided when it comes to actual violence.  Unlike the last (male) head of the International Monetary Fund, the current (female) head is not going to assault an employee at a luxury hotel; top-ranking female officers in the U.S. military, unlike their male counterparts, are not accused of any sexual assaults; and young female athletes, unlike those male football players in Steubenville, aren’t likely to urinate on unconscious boys, let alone violate them and boast about it in YouTube videos and Twitter feeds.

No female bus riders in India have ganged up to sexually assault a man so badly he dies of his injuries, nor are marauding packs of women terrorizing men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and there’s just no maternal equivalent to the 11% of rapes that are by fathers or stepfathers. Of the people in prison in the U.S., 93.5% are not women, and though quite a lot of them should not be there in the first place, maybe some of them should because of violence, until we think of a better way to deal with it, and them.

No major female pop star has blown the head off a young man she took home with her, as did Phil Spector.  (He is now part of that 93.5% for the shotgun slaying of Lana Clarkson, apparently for refusing his advances.)  No female action-movie star has been charged with domestic violence, because Angelina Jolie just isn’t doing what Mel Gibson and Steve McQueen did, and there aren’t any celebrated female movie directors who gave a 13-year-old drugs before sexually assaulting that child, while she kept saying “no,” as did Roman Polanski.

In Memory of Jyoti Singh

What’s the matter with manhood? There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed. There are lovely and wonderful men out there, and one of the things that’s encouraging in this round of the war against women is how many men I’ve seen who get it, who think it’s their issue too, who stand up for us and with us in everyday life, online and in the marches from New Delhi to San Francisco this winter.

Increasingly men are becoming good allies – and there always have been some.  Kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy. Domestic violence statistics are down significantly from earlier decades (even though they’re still shockingly high), and a lot of men are at work crafting new ideas and ideals about masculinity and power.

Gay men have been good allies of mine for almost four decades. (Apparently same-sex marriage horrifies conservatives because it’s marriage between equals with no inevitable roles.) Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. But we are free together or slaves together.

There are other things I’d rather write about, but this affects everything else. The lives of half of humanity are still dogged by, drained by, and sometimes ended by this pervasive variety of violence.  Think of how much more time and energy we would have to focus on other things that matter if we weren’t so busy surviving. Look at it this way: one of the best journalists I know is afraid to walk home at night in our neighborhood.  Should she stop working late? How many women have had to stop doing their work, or been stopped from doing it, for similar reasons?

One of the most exciting new political movements on Earth is the Native Canadian indigenous rights movement, with feminist and environmental overtones, called Idle No More. On December 27th, shortly after the movement took off, a Native woman was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and left for dead in Thunder Bay, Ontario, by men whose remarks framed the crime as retaliation against Idle No More. Afterward, she walked four hours through the bitter cold and survived to tell her tale. Her assailants, who have threatened to do it again, are still at large.

The New Delhi rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, the 23-year-old who was studying physiotherapy so that she could better herself while helping others, and the assault on her male companion (who survived) seem to have triggered the reaction that we have needed for 100, or 1,000, or 5,000 years. May she be to women — and men — worldwide what Emmett Till, murdered by white supremacists in 1955, was to African-Americans and the then-nascent U.S. civil rights movement.

We have far more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident.  We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s everyone’s problem, it’s not isolated, and it’s never going to be acceptable again. It has to change. It’s your job to change it, and mine, and ours.

Rebecca Solnit has written a version of this essay three times so far, once in the 1980s for the punk magazine Maximum Rock’n’Roll, once as the chapter on women and walking in her 2000 book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and here. She would love the topic to become out of date and irrelevant and never to have write it again.

Counting Down to 2014 in Afghanistan: Three Lousy Options, Pick One

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Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings. 2014, of course, is the year of the double whammy in Afghanistan: the next presidential election coupled with the departure of most American and other foreign forces. Many Afghans fear a turn for the worse, while others are no less afraid that everything will stay the same.  Some even think things will get better when the occupying forces leave.  Most predict a more conservative climate, but everyone is quick to say that it’s anybody’s guess.

Only one thing is certain in 2014: it will be a year of American military defeat.  For more than a decade, U.S. forces have fought many types of wars in Afghanistan, from a low-footprint invasion, to multiple surges, to a flirtation with Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, to a ramped-up, gloves-off air war.  And yet, despite all the experiments in styles of war-making, the American military and its coalition partners have ended up in the same place: stalemate, which in a battle with guerrillas means defeat.  For years, a modest-sized, generally unpopular, ragtag set of insurgents has fought the planet’s most heavily armed, technologically advanced military to a standstill, leaving the country shaken and its citizens anxiously imagining the outcome of unpalatable scenarios.

The first, compromise, suggests the possibility of reaching some sort of almost inconceivable power-sharing agreement with multiple insurgent militias.  While Washington presses for negotiations with its designated enemy, “the Taliban,” representatives of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, which includes12 members of the former Taliban government and many sympathizers, are making the rounds to talk disarmament and reconciliation with all the armed insurgent groups that the Afghan intelligence service has identified across the country. There are 1,500 of them.

One member of the Council told me, “It will take a long time before we get to Mullah Omar [the Taliban’s titular leader].  Some of these militias can’t even remember what they’ve been fighting about.”

The second scenario, open conflict, would mean another dreaded round of civil war like the one in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew in defeat -- the one that destroyed the Afghan capital, Kabul, devastated parts of the country, and gave rise to the Taliban.

The third scenario, collapse, sounds so apocalyptic that it’s seldom brought up by Afghans, but it’s implied in the exodus already underway of those citizens who can afford to leave the country.  The departures aren’t dramatic.  There are no helicopters lifting off the roof of the U.S. Embassy with desperate Afghans clamoring to get on board; just a record number of asylum applications in 2011, a year in which, according to official figures, almost 36,000 Afghans were openly looking for a safe place to land, preferably in Europe.  That figure is likely to be at least matched, if not exceeded, when the U.N. releases the complete data for 2012.

In January, I went to Kabul to learn what old friends and current officials are thinking about the critical months ahead.  At the same time, Afghan President Karzai flew to Washington to confer with President Obama.  Their talks seem to have differed radically from the conversations I had with ordinary Afghans. In Kabul, where strange rumors fly, an official reassured me that the future looked bright for the country because Karzai was expected to return from Washington with the promise of American radar systems, presumably for the Afghan Air Force, which is not yet “operational.” (He actually returned with the promise of helicopters, cargo planes, fighter jets, and drones.) Who knew that the fate of the nation and its suffering citizens hinged on that?  In my conversations with ordinary Afghans, one thing that never came up was radar.

Another term that never seems to enter ordinary Afghan conversation, much as it obsesses Americans, is “al-Qaeda.” President Obama, for instance, announced at a joint press conference with President Karzai: “Our core objective -- the reason we went to war in the first place -- is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America.”  An Afghan journalist asked me, “Why does he worry so much about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Doesn’t he know they are everywhere else?”

At the same Washington press conference, Obama said, “The nation we need to rebuild is our own.” Afghans long ago gave up waiting for the U.S. to make good on its promises to rebuild theirs. What’s now striking, however, is the vast gulf between the pronouncements of American officialdom and the hopes of ordinary Afghans.  It’s a gap so wide you would hardly think -- as Afghans once did -- that we are fighting for them.

To take just one example: the official American view of events in Afghanistan is wonderfully black and white.  The president, for instance, speaks of the way U.S. forces heroically “pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.” Like other top U.S. officials over the years, he forgets whom we pushed into the Afghan government, our “stronghold” in the years after the 2001 invasion: ex-Taliban and Taliban-like fundamentalists, the most brutal civil warriors, and serial human rights violators.

Afghans, however, haven’t forgotten just whom the U.S. put in place to govern them -- exactly the men they feared and hated most in exactly the place where few Afghans wanted them to be.  Early on, between 2002 and 2004, 90% of Afghans surveyed nationwide told the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that such men should not be allowed to hold public office; 76% wanted them tried as war criminals.


In my recent conversations, many Afghans still cited the first loya jirga, an assembly convened in 2003 to ratify the newly drafted constitution, or the first presidential election in 2004, or the parliamentary election of 2005, all held under international auspices, as the moments when the aspirations of Afghans and the “international community” parted company. In that first parliament, as in the earlier gatherings, most of the men were affiliated with armed militias; every other member was a formerjihadi, and nearly half were affiliated with fundamentalist Islamist parties, including the Taliban.

In this way, Afghans were consigned to live under a government of bloodstained warlords and fundamentalists, who turned out to be Washington’s guys.  Many had once battled the Soviets using American money and weapons, and quite a few, like the former warlord, druglord, minister of defense, and current vice-president Muhammad Qasim Fahim, had been very chummy with the CIA.

In the U.S., such details of our Afghan War, now in its 12th year, are long forgotten, but to Afghans who live under the rule of the same old suspects, the memory remains painfully raw.  Worse, Afghans know that it is these very men, rearmed and ready, who will once again compete for power in 2014.

How to Vote Early in Afghanistan

President Karzai is barred by term limits from standing for reelection in 2014, but many Kabulis believe he reached a private agreement with the usual suspects at a meeting late last year. In early January, he seemed to seal the deal by announcing that, for the sake of frugality, the voter cards issued for past elections will be reusedin 2014.  Far too many of those cards were issued for the 2004 election, suspiciously more than the number of eligible voters.  During the 2009 campaign, anyone could buy fistfuls of them at bargain basement prices.  So this decision seemed to kill off the last faint hope of an election in which Afghans might actually have a say about the leadership of the country.

Fewer than 35% of voters cast ballots in the last presidential contest, when Karzai’s men were caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.  (Afterward, President Obama phoned to congratulate Karzai on his “victory.”) Only dedicated or paid henchmen are likely to show up for the next “good enough for Afghans” exercise in democracy. Once again, an “election” may be just the elaborate stage set for announcing to a disillusioned public the names of those who will run the show in Kabul for the next few years.

Kabulis might live with that, as they’ve lived with Karzai all these years, but they fear power-hungry Afghan politicians could “compromise” as well with insurgent leaders like that old American favorite from the war against the Soviets, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who recently told a TV audience that he intends to claim his rightful place in government. Such compromises could stick the Afghan people with a shaky power-sharing deal among the most ultra-conservative, self-interested, sociopathic, and corrupt men in the country.  If that deal, in turn, were to fall apart, as most power-sharing agreements worldwide do within a year or two, the big men might well plunge the country back into a 1990s-style civil war, with no regard for the civilians caught in their path.

These worst-case scenarios are everyday Kabuli nightmares.  After all, during decades of war, the savvy citizens of the capital have learned to expect the worst from the men currently characterized in a popular local graffiti this way: “Mujahideen=Criminals. Taliban=Dumbheads.”

Ordinary Kabulis express reasonable fears for the future of the country, but impatient free-marketeering businessmen are voting with their feet right now, or laying plans to leave soon. They’ve made Kabul hum (often with foreign aid funds, which are equivalent to about 90% of the country’s economic activity), but they aren’t about to wait around for the results of election 2014.  Carpe diem has become their version of financial advice.  As a result, they are snatching what they can and packing their bags.

Millions of dollars reportedly take flight from Kabul International Airport every day: officially about $4.6 billion in 2011, or just about the size of Afghanistan’s annual budget. Hordes of businessmen and bankers (like those who, in 2004, set up the Ponzi scheme called the Kabul Bank, from which about a billion dollars went missing) are heading for cushy spots like Dubai, where they have already established residence on prime real estate.

As they take their investments elsewhere and the American effort winds down, the Afghan economy contracts ever more grimly, opportunities dwindle, and jobs disappear.  Housing prices in Kabul are falling for the first time since the start of the occupation as rich Afghans and profiteering private American contractors, who guzzled the money that Washington and the “international community” poured into the country, move on.

At the same time, a money-laundering building boom in Kabul appears to have stalled, leaving tall, half-built office blocks like so many skeletons amid the scalloped Pakistani palaces, vertical malls, and grand madrassas erected in the past four or five years by political and business insiders and well-connected conservative clerics.

Most of the Afghan tycoons seeking asylum elsewhere don’t fear for their lives, just their pocketbooks: they’re not political refugees, but free-market rats abandoning the sinking ship of state.  Joining in the exodus (but not included in the statistics) are countless illegal émigrés seeking jobs or fleeing for their lives, paying human smugglers money they can’t afford as they head for Europe by circuitous and dangerous routes.

Threatened Afghans have fled from every abrupt change of government in the last century, making them the largest population of refugees from a single country on the planet.  Once again, those who can are voting with their feet (or their pocketbooks) -- and voting early.

Afghanistan’s historic tragedy is that its violent political shifts -- from king to communists to warlords to religious fundamentalists to the Americans -- have meant the flight of the very people most capable of rebuilding the country along peaceful and prosperous lines.  And their departure only contributes to the economic and political collapse they themselves seek to avoid.  Left behind are ordinary Afghans -- the illiterate and unskilled, but also a tough core of educated, ambitious citizens, including women’s rights activists, unwilling to surrender their dream of living once again in a free and peaceful Afghanistan.

The Military Monster

These days Kabul resounds with the blasts of suicide bombers, IEDs, and sporadic gunfire.  Armed men are everywhere in anonymous uniforms that defy identification.  Any man with money can buy a squad of bodyguards, clad in classy camouflage and wraparound shades, and armed with assault weapons.  Yet Kabulis, trying to carry on normal lives in the relative safety of the capital, seem to maintain a distance from the war going on in the provinces.

Asked that crucial question -- do you think American forces should stay or go? -- the Kabulis I talked with tended to answer in a theoretical way, very unlike the visceral response one gets in the countryside, where villages are bombed andcivilians killed, or in the makeshift camps for internally displaced people that now crowd the outer fringes of Kabul. (By the time U.S. Marines surged into Taliban-controlled Helmand Province in the south in 2010 to bring counterinsurgency-style protection to the residents there, tens of thousands of them had already moved to those camps in Kabul.)  Afghans in the countryside want to be rid of armed men.  All of them.  Kabulis just want to be secure, and if that means keeping some U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base near the capital, as Afghan and American officials are currently discussing, well, it’s nothing to them.

In fact, most Kabulis I spoke to think that’s what’s going to happen.  After all, American officials have been talking for years about keeping permanent bases in Afghanistan (though they avoid the term “permanent” when speaking to the American press), and American military officers now regularly appear on Afghan TV to say, “The United States will never abandon Afghanistan.”  Afghans reason: Americans would not have spent nearly 12 years fighting in this country if it were not the most strategic place on the planet and absolutely essential to their plans to “push on” Iran and China next.  Everybody knows that pushing on other countries is an American specialty.

Besides, Afghans can see with their own eyes that U.S. command centers, including multiple bases in Kabul, and Bagram Air Base, only 30 miles away, are still being expanded and upgraded.  Beyond the high walls of the American Embassy compound, they can also see the tall new apartment blocks going up for an expanding staff, even if Washington now claims that staff will be reduced in the years to come.

Why, then, would President Obama announce the drawdown of U.S. troops to perhaps a few thousand special operations forces and advisors, if Washington didn’t mean to leave?  Afghans have a theory about that, too.  It’s a ruse, many claim, to encourage all other foreign forces to depart so that the Americans can have everything to themselves.  Afghanistan, as they imagine it, is so important that the U.S., which has fought the longest war in its history there, will be satisfied with nothing less.

I was there to listen, but at times I did mention to Afghans that America’s post-9/11 wars and occupations were threatening to break the country.  “We just can’t afford this war anymore,” I said.

Afghans only laugh at that.  They’ve seen the way Americans throw money around.  They’ve seen the way American money corrupted the Afghan government, and many reminded me that American politicians like Afghan ones are bought and sold, and its elections won by money. Americans, they know, are as rich as Croesus and very friendly, though on the whole not very well mannered or honest or smart.

Operation Enduring Presence      

More than 11 years later, the tragedy of the American war in Afghanistan is simple enough: it has proven remarkably irrelevant to the lives of the Afghan people -- and to American troops as well.  Washington has long appeared to be fighting its own war in defense of a form of government and a set of long-discredited government officials that ordinary Afghans would never have chosen for themselves and have no power to replace.

In the early years of the war (2001-2005), George W. Bush’s administration was far too distracted planning and launching another war in Iraq to maintain anything but a minimal military presence in Afghanistan -- and that mainly outside the capital.  Many journalists (including me) criticized Bush for not finishing the war he started there when he had the chance, but today Kabulis look back on that soldierless period of peace and hope with a certain nostalgia.  In some quarters, the Bush years have even acquired something like the sheen of a lost Golden Age -- compared, that is, to the thoroughgoing militarization of American policy that followed.

So commanding did the U.S. military become in Kabul and Washington that, over the years, it ate the State Department, gobbled up the incompetent bureaucracy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the countryside to carry out maniacal “development” projects and throw bales of cash at all the wrong “leaders.”

Of course, the military also killed a great many people, both “enemies” and civilians.  As in Vietnam, it won the battles, but lost the war.  When I asked Afghans from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north how they accounted for the relative peacefulness and stability of their area, the answer seemed self-evident: “Americans didn’t come here.”

Other consequences, all deleterious, flowed from the militarization of foreign policy.  In Afghanistan and the United States, so intimately ensnarled over all these years, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has grown exponentially, in large part because in both countries the rich have made money off war-making, while ordinary citizens have slipped into poverty for lack of jobs and basic services.

Relying on the military, the U.S. neglected the crucial elements of civil life in Afghanistan that make things bearable -- like education and health care.  Yes, I’ve heard the repeated claims that, thanks to us, millions of children are now attending school.  But for how long?   According to UNICEF, in the years 2005-2010, in the whole of Afghanistan only 18% of boys attended high school, and 6% of girls.  What kind of report card is that?  After 11 years of underfunded work on health care in a country the size of Texas, infant mortality still remains the highest in the world.

By 2014, the defense of Afghanistan will have been handed over to the woefulAfghan National Security Force, also known in military-speak as the “Enduring Presence Force.”  In that year, for Washington, the American war will be officially over, whether it’s actually at an end or not, and it will be up to Afghans to do the enduring.

Here’s where that final scenario -- collapse -- haunts the Kabuli imagination.  Economic collapse means joblessness, poverty, hunger, and a great swelling of the ranks of children cadging a living in the streets.  Already street children are said to number a million strong in Kabul, and 4 million across the country.  Only blocks from the Presidential Palace, they are there in startling numbers selling newspapers, phone cards, toilet paper, or simply begging for small change. Are they the county’s future?

And if the state collapses, too?  Afghans of a certain age remember well the last time the country was left on its own, after the Soviets departed in 1989, and the U.S. also terminated its covert aid.  The mujahideen parties -- Islamists all -- agreed to take turns ruling the country, but things soon fell apart and they took turns instead lobbing rockets into Kabul, killing tens of thousands of civilians, reducing entire districts to rubble, raiding and raping -- until the Taliban came up from the south and put a stop to everything.

Afghan civilians who remember that era hope that this time Karzai will step down as he promises, and that the usual suspects will find ways to maintain traditional power balances, however undemocratic, in something that passes for peace.  Afghan civilians are, however, betting that if a collision comes, one-third of those Afghan Security Forces trained at fabulous expense to protect them will fight for the government (whoever that may be), one-third will fight for the opposition, and one-third will simply desert and go home.  That sounds almost like a plan.

Counting Down to 2014 in Afghanistan: Three Lousy Options, Pick One

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Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings. 2014, of course, is the year of the double whammy in Afghanistan: the next presidential election coupled with the departure of most American and other foreign forces. Many Afghans fear a turn for the worse, while others are no less afraid that everything will stay the same.  Some even think things will get better when the occupying forces leave.  Most predict a more conservative climate, but everyone is quick to say that it’s anybody’s guess.

Only one thing is certain in 2014: it will be a year of American military defeat.  For more than a decade, U.S. forces have fought many types of wars in Afghanistan, from a low-footprint invasion, to multiple surges, to a flirtation with Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, to a ramped-up, gloves-off air war.  And yet, despite all the experiments in styles of war-making, the American military and its coalition partners have ended up in the same place: stalemate, which in a battle with guerrillas means defeat.  For years, a modest-sized, generally unpopular, ragtag set of insurgents has fought the planet’s most heavily armed, technologically advanced military to a standstill, leaving the country shaken and its citizens anxiously imagining the outcome of unpalatable scenarios.

The first, compromise, suggests the possibility of reaching some sort of almost inconceivable power-sharing agreement with multiple insurgent militias.  While Washington presses for negotiations with its designated enemy, “the Taliban,” representatives of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, which includes12 members of the former Taliban government and many sympathizers, are making the rounds to talk disarmament and reconciliation with all the armed insurgent groups that the Afghan intelligence service has identified across the country. There are 1,500 of them.

One member of the Council told me, “It will take a long time before we get to Mullah Omar [the Taliban’s titular leader].  Some of these militias can’t even remember what they’ve been fighting about.”

The second scenario, open conflict, would mean another dreaded round of civil war like the one in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew in defeat -- the one that destroyed the Afghan capital, Kabul, devastated parts of the country, and gave rise to the Taliban.

The third scenario, collapse, sounds so apocalyptic that it’s seldom brought up by Afghans, but it’s implied in the exodus already underway of those citizens who can afford to leave the country.  The departures aren’t dramatic.  There are no helicopters lifting off the roof of the U.S. Embassy with desperate Afghans clamoring to get on board; just a record number of asylum applications in 2011, a year in which, according to official figures, almost 36,000 Afghans were openly looking for a safe place to land, preferably in Europe.  That figure is likely to be at least matched, if not exceeded, when the U.N. releases the complete data for 2012.

In January, I went to Kabul to learn what old friends and current officials are thinking about the critical months ahead.  At the same time, Afghan President Karzai flew to Washington to confer with President Obama.  Their talks seem to have differed radically from the conversations I had with ordinary Afghans. In Kabul, where strange rumors fly, an official reassured me that the future looked bright for the country because Karzai was expected to return from Washington with the promise of American radar systems, presumably for the Afghan Air Force, which is not yet “operational.” (He actually returned with the promise of helicopters, cargo planes, fighter jets, and drones.) Who knew that the fate of the nation and its suffering citizens hinged on that?  In my conversations with ordinary Afghans, one thing that never came up was radar.

Another term that never seems to enter ordinary Afghan conversation, much as it obsesses Americans, is “al-Qaeda.” President Obama, for instance, announced at a joint press conference with President Karzai: “Our core objective -- the reason we went to war in the first place -- is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America.”  An Afghan journalist asked me, “Why does he worry so much about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Doesn’t he know they are everywhere else?”

At the same Washington press conference, Obama said, “The nation we need to rebuild is our own.” Afghans long ago gave up waiting for the U.S. to make good on its promises to rebuild theirs. What’s now striking, however, is the vast gulf between the pronouncements of American officialdom and the hopes of ordinary Afghans.  It’s a gap so wide you would hardly think -- as Afghans once did -- that we are fighting for them.

To take just one example: the official American view of events in Afghanistan is wonderfully black and white.  The president, for instance, speaks of the way U.S. forces heroically “pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.” Like other top U.S. officials over the years, he forgets whom we pushed into the Afghan government, our “stronghold” in the years after the 2001 invasion: ex-Taliban and Taliban-like fundamentalists, the most brutal civil warriors, and serial human rights violators.

Afghans, however, haven’t forgotten just whom the U.S. put in place to govern them -- exactly the men they feared and hated most in exactly the place where few Afghans wanted them to be.  Early on, between 2002 and 2004, 90% of Afghans surveyed nationwide told the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that such men should not be allowed to hold public office; 76% wanted them tried as war criminals.


In my recent conversations, many Afghans still cited the first loya jirga, an assembly convened in 2003 to ratify the newly drafted constitution, or the first presidential election in 2004, or the parliamentary election of 2005, all held under international auspices, as the moments when the aspirations of Afghans and the “international community” parted company. In that first parliament, as in the earlier gatherings, most of the men were affiliated with armed militias; every other member was a formerjihadi, and nearly half were affiliated with fundamentalist Islamist parties, including the Taliban.

In this way, Afghans were consigned to live under a government of bloodstained warlords and fundamentalists, who turned out to be Washington’s guys.  Many had once battled the Soviets using American money and weapons, and quite a few, like the former warlord, druglord, minister of defense, and current vice-president Muhammad Qasim Fahim, had been very chummy with the CIA.

In the U.S., such details of our Afghan War, now in its 12th year, are long forgotten, but to Afghans who live under the rule of the same old suspects, the memory remains painfully raw.  Worse, Afghans know that it is these very men, rearmed and ready, who will once again compete for power in 2014.

How to Vote Early in Afghanistan

President Karzai is barred by term limits from standing for reelection in 2014, but many Kabulis believe he reached a private agreement with the usual suspects at a meeting late last year. In early January, he seemed to seal the deal by announcing that, for the sake of frugality, the voter cards issued for past elections will be reusedin 2014.  Far too many of those cards were issued for the 2004 election, suspiciously more than the number of eligible voters.  During the 2009 campaign, anyone could buy fistfuls of them at bargain basement prices.  So this decision seemed to kill off the last faint hope of an election in which Afghans might actually have a say about the leadership of the country.

Fewer than 35% of voters cast ballots in the last presidential contest, when Karzai’s men were caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.  (Afterward, President Obama phoned to congratulate Karzai on his “victory.”) Only dedicated or paid henchmen are likely to show up for the next “good enough for Afghans” exercise in democracy. Once again, an “election” may be just the elaborate stage set for announcing to a disillusioned public the names of those who will run the show in Kabul for the next few years.

Kabulis might live with that, as they’ve lived with Karzai all these years, but they fear power-hungry Afghan politicians could “compromise” as well with insurgent leaders like that old American favorite from the war against the Soviets, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who recently told a TV audience that he intends to claim his rightful place in government. Such compromises could stick the Afghan people with a shaky power-sharing deal among the most ultra-conservative, self-interested, sociopathic, and corrupt men in the country.  If that deal, in turn, were to fall apart, as most power-sharing agreements worldwide do within a year or two, the big men might well plunge the country back into a 1990s-style civil war, with no regard for the civilians caught in their path.

These worst-case scenarios are everyday Kabuli nightmares.  After all, during decades of war, the savvy citizens of the capital have learned to expect the worst from the men currently characterized in a popular local graffiti this way: “Mujahideen=Criminals. Taliban=Dumbheads.”

Ordinary Kabulis express reasonable fears for the future of the country, but impatient free-marketeering businessmen are voting with their feet right now, or laying plans to leave soon. They’ve made Kabul hum (often with foreign aid funds, which are equivalent to about 90% of the country’s economic activity), but they aren’t about to wait around for the results of election 2014.  Carpe diem has become their version of financial advice.  As a result, they are snatching what they can and packing their bags.

Millions of dollars reportedly take flight from Kabul International Airport every day: officially about $4.6 billion in 2011, or just about the size of Afghanistan’s annual budget. Hordes of businessmen and bankers (like those who, in 2004, set up the Ponzi scheme called the Kabul Bank, from which about a billion dollars went missing) are heading for cushy spots like Dubai, where they have already established residence on prime real estate.

As they take their investments elsewhere and the American effort winds down, the Afghan economy contracts ever more grimly, opportunities dwindle, and jobs disappear.  Housing prices in Kabul are falling for the first time since the start of the occupation as rich Afghans and profiteering private American contractors, who guzzled the money that Washington and the “international community” poured into the country, move on.

At the same time, a money-laundering building boom in Kabul appears to have stalled, leaving tall, half-built office blocks like so many skeletons amid the scalloped Pakistani palaces, vertical malls, and grand madrassas erected in the past four or five years by political and business insiders and well-connected conservative clerics.

Most of the Afghan tycoons seeking asylum elsewhere don’t fear for their lives, just their pocketbooks: they’re not political refugees, but free-market rats abandoning the sinking ship of state.  Joining in the exodus (but not included in the statistics) are countless illegal émigrés seeking jobs or fleeing for their lives, paying human smugglers money they can’t afford as they head for Europe by circuitous and dangerous routes.

Threatened Afghans have fled from every abrupt change of government in the last century, making them the largest population of refugees from a single country on the planet.  Once again, those who can are voting with their feet (or their pocketbooks) -- and voting early.

Afghanistan’s historic tragedy is that its violent political shifts -- from king to communists to warlords to religious fundamentalists to the Americans -- have meant the flight of the very people most capable of rebuilding the country along peaceful and prosperous lines.  And their departure only contributes to the economic and political collapse they themselves seek to avoid.  Left behind are ordinary Afghans -- the illiterate and unskilled, but also a tough core of educated, ambitious citizens, including women’s rights activists, unwilling to surrender their dream of living once again in a free and peaceful Afghanistan.

The Military Monster

These days Kabul resounds with the blasts of suicide bombers, IEDs, and sporadic gunfire.  Armed men are everywhere in anonymous uniforms that defy identification.  Any man with money can buy a squad of bodyguards, clad in classy camouflage and wraparound shades, and armed with assault weapons.  Yet Kabulis, trying to carry on normal lives in the relative safety of the capital, seem to maintain a distance from the war going on in the provinces.

Asked that crucial question -- do you think American forces should stay or go? -- the Kabulis I talked with tended to answer in a theoretical way, very unlike the visceral response one gets in the countryside, where villages are bombed andcivilians killed, or in the makeshift camps for internally displaced people that now crowd the outer fringes of Kabul. (By the time U.S. Marines surged into Taliban-controlled Helmand Province in the south in 2010 to bring counterinsurgency-style protection to the residents there, tens of thousands of them had already moved to those camps in Kabul.)  Afghans in the countryside want to be rid of armed men.  All of them.  Kabulis just want to be secure, and if that means keeping some U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base near the capital, as Afghan and American officials are currently discussing, well, it’s nothing to them.

In fact, most Kabulis I spoke to think that’s what’s going to happen.  After all, American officials have been talking for years about keeping permanent bases in Afghanistan (though they avoid the term “permanent” when speaking to the American press), and American military officers now regularly appear on Afghan TV to say, “The United States will never abandon Afghanistan.”  Afghans reason: Americans would not have spent nearly 12 years fighting in this country if it were not the most strategic place on the planet and absolutely essential to their plans to “push on” Iran and China next.  Everybody knows that pushing on other countries is an American specialty.

Besides, Afghans can see with their own eyes that U.S. command centers, including multiple bases in Kabul, and Bagram Air Base, only 30 miles away, are still being expanded and upgraded.  Beyond the high walls of the American Embassy compound, they can also see the tall new apartment blocks going up for an expanding staff, even if Washington now claims that staff will be reduced in the years to come.

Why, then, would President Obama announce the drawdown of U.S. troops to perhaps a few thousand special operations forces and advisors, if Washington didn’t mean to leave?  Afghans have a theory about that, too.  It’s a ruse, many claim, to encourage all other foreign forces to depart so that the Americans can have everything to themselves.  Afghanistan, as they imagine it, is so important that the U.S., which has fought the longest war in its history there, will be satisfied with nothing less.

I was there to listen, but at times I did mention to Afghans that America’s post-9/11 wars and occupations were threatening to break the country.  “We just can’t afford this war anymore,” I said.

Afghans only laugh at that.  They’ve seen the way Americans throw money around.  They’ve seen the way American money corrupted the Afghan government, and many reminded me that American politicians like Afghan ones are bought and sold, and its elections won by money. Americans, they know, are as rich as Croesus and very friendly, though on the whole not very well mannered or honest or smart.

Operation Enduring Presence      

More than 11 years later, the tragedy of the American war in Afghanistan is simple enough: it has proven remarkably irrelevant to the lives of the Afghan people -- and to American troops as well.  Washington has long appeared to be fighting its own war in defense of a form of government and a set of long-discredited government officials that ordinary Afghans would never have chosen for themselves and have no power to replace.

In the early years of the war (2001-2005), George W. Bush’s administration was far too distracted planning and launching another war in Iraq to maintain anything but a minimal military presence in Afghanistan -- and that mainly outside the capital.  Many journalists (including me) criticized Bush for not finishing the war he started there when he had the chance, but today Kabulis look back on that soldierless period of peace and hope with a certain nostalgia.  In some quarters, the Bush years have even acquired something like the sheen of a lost Golden Age -- compared, that is, to the thoroughgoing militarization of American policy that followed.

So commanding did the U.S. military become in Kabul and Washington that, over the years, it ate the State Department, gobbled up the incompetent bureaucracy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the countryside to carry out maniacal “development” projects and throw bales of cash at all the wrong “leaders.”

Of course, the military also killed a great many people, both “enemies” and civilians.  As in Vietnam, it won the battles, but lost the war.  When I asked Afghans from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north how they accounted for the relative peacefulness and stability of their area, the answer seemed self-evident: “Americans didn’t come here.”

Other consequences, all deleterious, flowed from the militarization of foreign policy.  In Afghanistan and the United States, so intimately ensnarled over all these years, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has grown exponentially, in large part because in both countries the rich have made money off war-making, while ordinary citizens have slipped into poverty for lack of jobs and basic services.

Relying on the military, the U.S. neglected the crucial elements of civil life in Afghanistan that make things bearable -- like education and health care.  Yes, I’ve heard the repeated claims that, thanks to us, millions of children are now attending school.  But for how long?   According to UNICEF, in the years 2005-2010, in the whole of Afghanistan only 18% of boys attended high school, and 6% of girls.  What kind of report card is that?  After 11 years of underfunded work on health care in a country the size of Texas, infant mortality still remains the highest in the world.

By 2014, the defense of Afghanistan will have been handed over to the woefulAfghan National Security Force, also known in military-speak as the “Enduring Presence Force.”  In that year, for Washington, the American war will be officially over, whether it’s actually at an end or not, and it will be up to Afghans to do the enduring.

Here’s where that final scenario -- collapse -- haunts the Kabuli imagination.  Economic collapse means joblessness, poverty, hunger, and a great swelling of the ranks of children cadging a living in the streets.  Already street children are said to number a million strong in Kabul, and 4 million across the country.  Only blocks from the Presidential Palace, they are there in startling numbers selling newspapers, phone cards, toilet paper, or simply begging for small change. Are they the county’s future?

And if the state collapses, too?  Afghans of a certain age remember well the last time the country was left on its own, after the Soviets departed in 1989, and the U.S. also terminated its covert aid.  The mujahideen parties -- Islamists all -- agreed to take turns ruling the country, but things soon fell apart and they took turns instead lobbing rockets into Kabul, killing tens of thousands of civilians, reducing entire districts to rubble, raiding and raping -- until the Taliban came up from the south and put a stop to everything.

Afghan civilians who remember that era hope that this time Karzai will step down as he promises, and that the usual suspects will find ways to maintain traditional power balances, however undemocratic, in something that passes for peace.  Afghan civilians are, however, betting that if a collision comes, one-third of those Afghan Security Forces trained at fabulous expense to protect them will fight for the government (whoever that may be), one-third will fight for the opposition, and one-third will simply desert and go home.  That sounds almost like a plan.

The CIA’s Secret Prisons in Poland

A Polish investigation into secret CIA jails is being suppressed because it will embarrass the top echelon of the country’s government, lawyers of two men held illegally in one of the CIA’s ‘black sites’ in Poland tell media.

Reportedly, the results of this investigation could link some of Poland’s most senior politicians with illegal detention and torture, as well as impact negatively on the relationship between Poland and its key ally, the US, according to Reuters.

The news agency’s sources, including lawyers and human rights activists, reveal that the investigation was halted after the original investigators were taken off the case early last year.

The probe began in 2008 with prosecutors from the capital Warsaw, but in early 2012 the prosecutor-general transferred the investigation to the southern city of Krakow.

“The image is of a complete lack of action,” Mikolaj Pietrzak, lawyer for Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri who says he was detained in a CIA jail on Polish soil, told Reuters. “The case is obviously, in my opinion, under political control … The most convenient thing politically is for the case to drag on,” Pietrzak added.

Bartlomiej Jankowski, a lawyer for the second alleged ex-detainee, Abu Zubaydah, has confirmed this.

“I am not receiving any information [from prosecutors] about new documents, nor am I informed about any new hearings. This is something that worries me,” Jankowski said.

CIA-run prison was discovered in a small remote village Stare Kiejkuty and was operational from December 2002 to the fall of 2003. It was used to transport suspected Al-Qaeda members outside the US territory to interrogate without having to adhere to US law.

Polish officials say the investigators are still in the midst of collecting evidence and the investigation is taking so long because US officials have not been responding to information requests.

In 2006, then-President George W. Bush revealed the US had CIA detention facilities overseas, but no details came out as to their exact locations.However, human rights groups named Afghanistan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Thailand as the most likely hosts.

The CIA’s black sites in Europe are rumored to have detained and tortured suspected terrorists, and to hold them in custody before being transported to the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The sites and the prisoners existed in legal limbo, with no oversight from citizens of the host countries. The CIA is believed to have operated with the knowledge and cooperation of the governments of those countries.

Poland is the second country to have opened a criminal investigation into the matter, after Lithuania (though that case has been closed).

Polish investigation is entering its fifth year, scheduled to end this month, but there are reports that the prosecutors may apply for an extension.

‘Investigation implicated senior levels of Polish government’

One of the main problems with the investigation is the fact that it affects top levels of Polish government, argues Polish Senator Jozef Pinior, who has pushed for a full investigation.

” [The government] are in a sandwich between opening this issue up and the pressure from the hard core of the Polish state, the secret service, the prosecutor’s office, who say: ‘Let’s keep this secret’,” Pinior told Reuters.

In response, Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s office stated that the investigators are independent from external influence. “No executive body can influence the prosecutor’s actions,” it said in a statement.

Rumors about Poland hosting a CIA-run prison had circulated for years, though the country’s authorities dismissed them as absurd.However, the UN and the Council of Europe had long claimed they had evidence of the site’s existence.

Also aware of the CIA program was Marek Dukaczewski, who was head of military intelligence when the alleged jail was in operation. He was the only one to acknowledge the CIA prison publicly in 2010.

Two prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, claimed they were prisoners at this black site. Polish prosecutors have already given the two ‘victim status’.

Among other possible detainees are self-proclaimed 9/11 terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, perpetrator of the 2000 USS Cole bombing Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Palestinian terror suspect Abu Zubaydah.

Only Three Choices for Afghan Endgame: Compromise, Conflict, or Collapse

KABUL, Afghanistan – Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings. 2014, of course, is the year of the double whammy in Afghanistan: the next presidential election coupled with the departure of most American and other foreign forces. Many Afghans fear a turn for the worse, while others are no less afraid that everything will stay the same.  Some even think things will get better when the occupying forces leave.  Most predict a more conservative climate, but everyone is quick to say that it’s anybody’s guess.

Only one thing is certain in 2014: it will be a year of American military defeat.  For more than a decade, U.S. forces have fought many types of wars in Afghanistan, from a low-footprint invasion, to multiple surges, to a flirtation with Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, to a ramped-up, gloves-off air war.  And yet, despite all the experiments in styles of war-making, the American military and its coalition partners have ended up in the same place: stalemate, which in a battle with guerrillas means defeat.  For years, a modest-sized, generally unpopular, ragtag set of insurgents has fought the planet’s most heavily armed, technologically advanced military to a standstill, leaving the country shaken and its citizens anxiously imagining the outcome of unpalatable scenarios.

The first, compromise, suggests the possibility of reaching some sort of almost inconceivable power-sharing agreement with multiple insurgent militias.  While Washington presses for negotiations with its designated enemy, “the Taliban,” representatives of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, which includes 12 members of the former Taliban government and many sympathizers, are making the rounds to talk disarmament and reconciliation with all the armed insurgent groups that the Afghan intelligence service has identified across the country. There are 1,500 of them.

One member of the Council told me, “It will take a long time before we get to Mullah Omar [the Taliban’s titular leader].  Some of these militias can’t even remember what they’ve been fighting about.”

The second scenario, open conflict, would mean another dreaded round of civil war like the one in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew in defeat -- the one that destroyed the Afghan capital, Kabul, devastated parts of the country, and gave rise to the Taliban.

The third scenario, collapse, sounds so apocalyptic that it’s seldom brought up by Afghans, but it’s implied in the exodus already underway of those citizens who can afford to leave the country.  The departures aren’t dramatic.  There are no helicopters lifting off the roof of the U.S. Embassy with desperate Afghans clamoring to get on board; just a record number of asylum applications in 2011, a year in which, according to official figures, almost 36,000 Afghans were openly looking for a safe place to land, preferably in Europe.  That figure is likely to be at least matched, if not exceeded, when the U.N. releases the complete data for 2012.

In January, I went to Kabul to learn what old friends and current officials are thinking about the critical months ahead.  At the same time, Afghan President Karzai flew to Washington to confer with President Obama.  Their talks seem to have differed radically from the conversations I had with ordinary Afghans. In Kabul, where strange rumors fly, an official reassured me that the future looked bright for the country because Karzai was expected to return from Washington with the promise of American radar systems, presumably for the Afghan Air Force, which is not yet “operational.” (He actually returned with the promise of helicopters, cargo planes, fighter jets, and drones.) Who knew that the fate of the nation and its suffering citizens hinged on that?  In my conversations with ordinary Afghans, one thing that never came up was radar.

Another term that never seems to enter ordinary Afghan conversation, much as it obsesses Americans, is “al-Qaeda.” President Obama, for instance, announced at a joint press conference with President Karzai: “Our core objective -- the reason we went to war in the first place -- is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America.”  An Afghan journalist asked me, “Why does he worry so much about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Doesn’t he know they are everywhere else?”

At the same Washington press conference, Obama said, “The nation we need to rebuild is our own.” Afghans long ago gave up waiting for the U.S. to make good on its promises to rebuild theirs. What’s now striking, however, is the vast gulf between the pronouncements of American officialdom and the hopes of ordinary Afghans.  It’s a gap so wide you would hardly think -- as Afghans once did -- that we are fighting for them.

To take just one example: the official American view of events in Afghanistan is wonderfully black and white.  The president, for instance, speaks of the way U.S. forces heroically “pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.” Like other top U.S. officials over the years, he forgets whom we pushed into the Afghan government, our “stronghold” in the years after the 2001 invasion: ex-Taliban and Taliban-like fundamentalists, the most brutal civil warriors, and serial human rights violators.

Afghans, however, haven’t forgotten just whom the U.S. put in place to govern them -- exactly the men they feared and hated most in exactly the place where few Afghans wanted them to be.  Early on, between 2002 and 2004, 90% of Afghans surveyed nationwide told the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that such men should not be allowed to hold public office; 76% wanted them tried as war criminals.

In my recent conversations, many Afghans still cited the first loya jirga, an assembly convened in 2003 to ratify the newly drafted constitution, or the first presidential election in 2004, or the parliamentary election of 2005, all held under international auspices, as the moments when the aspirations of Afghans and the “international community” parted company. In that first parliament, as in the earlier gatherings, most of the men were affiliated with armed militias; every other member was a former jihadi, and nearly half were affiliated with fundamentalist Islamist parties, including the Taliban.

In this way, Afghans were consigned to live under a government of bloodstained warlords and fundamentalists, who turned out to be Washington’s guys.  Many had once battled the Soviets using American money and weapons, and quite a few, like the former warlord, druglord, minister of defense, and current vice-president Muhammad Qasim Fahim, had been very chummy with the CIA.

In the U.S., such details of our Afghan War, now in its 12th year, are long forgotten, but to Afghans who live under the rule of the same old suspects, the memory remains painfully raw.  Worse, Afghans know that it is these very men, rearmed and ready, who will once again compete for power in 2014.

How to Vote Early in Afghanistan

President Karzai is barred by term limits from standing for reelection in 2014, but many Kabulis believe he reached a private agreement with the usual suspects at a meeting late last year. In early January, he seemed to seal the deal by announcing that, for the sake of frugality, the voter cards issued for past elections will be reused in 2014.  Far too many of those cards were issued for the 2004 election, suspiciously more than the number of eligible voters.  During the 2009 campaign, anyone could buy fistfuls of them at bargain basement prices.  So this decision seemed to kill off the last faint hope of an election in which Afghans might actually have a say about the leadership of the country.

Fewer than 35% of voters cast ballots in the last presidential contest, when Karzai’s men were caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.  (Afterward, President Obama phoned to congratulate Karzai on his “victory.”) Only dedicated or paid henchmen are likely to show up for the next “good enough for Afghans” exercise in democracy. Once again, an “election” may be just the elaborate stage set for announcing to a disillusioned public the names of those who will run the show in Kabul for the next few years.

Kabulis might live with that, as they’ve lived with Karzai all these years, but they fear power-hungry Afghan politicians could “compromise” as well with insurgent leaders like that old American favorite from the war against the Soviets, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who recently told a TV audience that he intends to claim his rightful place in government. Such compromises could stick the Afghan people with a shaky power-sharing deal among the most ultra-conservative, self-interested, sociopathic, and corrupt men in the country.  If that deal, in turn, were to fall apart, as most power-sharing agreements worldwide do within a year or two, the big men might well plunge the country back into a 1990s-style civil war, with no regard for the civilians caught in their path.

These worst-case scenarios are everyday Kabuli nightmares.  After all, during decades of war, the savvy citizens of the capital have learned to expect the worst from the men currently characterized in a popular local graffiti this way: “Mujahideen=Criminals. Taliban=Dumbheads.”

Ordinary Kabulis express reasonable fears for the future of the country, but impatient free-marketeering businessmen are voting with their feet right now, or laying plans to leave soon. They’ve made Kabul hum (often with foreign aid funds, which are equivalent to about 90% of the country’s economic activity), but they aren’t about to wait around for the results of election 2014.  Carpe diem has become their version of financial advice.  As a result, they are snatching what they can and packing their bags.

Millions of dollars reportedly take flight from Kabul International Airport every day: officially about $4.6 billion in 2011, or just about the size of Afghanistan’s annual budget. Hordes of businessmen and bankers (like those who, in 2004, set up the Ponzi scheme called the Kabul Bank, from which about a billion dollars went missing) are heading for cushy spots like Dubai, where they have already established residence on prime real estate.

As they take their investments elsewhere and the American effort winds down, the Afghan economy contracts ever more grimly, opportunities dwindle, and jobs disappear.  Housing prices in Kabul are falling for the first time since the start of the occupation as rich Afghans and profiteering private American contractors, who guzzled the money that Washington and the “international community” poured into the country, move on.

At the same time, a money-laundering building boom in Kabul appears to have stalled, leaving tall, half-built office blocks like so many skeletons amid the scalloped Pakistani palaces, vertical malls, and grand madrassas erected in the past four or five years by political and business insiders and well-connected conservative clerics.

Most of the Afghan tycoons seeking asylum elsewhere don’t fear for their lives, just their pocketbooks: they’re not political refugees, but free-market rats abandoning the sinking ship of state.  Joining in the exodus (but not included in the statistics) are countless illegal émigrés seeking jobs or fleeing for their lives, paying human smugglers money they can’t afford as they head for Europe by circuitous and dangerous routes.

Threatened Afghans have fled from every abrupt change of government in the last century, making them the largest population of refugees from a single country on the planet.  Once again, those who can are voting with their feet (or their pocketbooks) -- and voting early.

Afghanistan’s historic tragedy is that its violent political shifts -- from king to communists to warlords to religious fundamentalists to the Americans -- have meant the flight of the very people most capable of rebuilding the country along peaceful and prosperous lines.  And their departure only contributes to the economic and political collapse they themselves seek to avoid.  Left behind are ordinary Afghans -- the illiterate and unskilled, but also a tough core of educated, ambitious citizens, including women’s rights activists, unwilling to surrender their dream of living once again in a free and peaceful Afghanistan.

The Military Monster

These days Kabul resounds with the blasts of suicide bombers, IEDs, and sporadic gunfire.  Armed men are everywhere in anonymous uniforms that defy identification.  Any man with money can buy a squad of bodyguards, clad in classy camouflage and wraparound shades, and armed with assault weapons.  Yet Kabulis, trying to carry on normal lives in the relative safety of the capital, seem to maintain a distance from the war going on in the provinces.

Asked that crucial question -- do you think American forces should stay or go? -- the Kabulis I talked with tended to answer in a theoretical way, very unlike the visceral response one gets in the countryside, where villages are bombed and civilians killed, or in the makeshift camps for internally displaced people that now crowd the outer fringes of Kabul. (By the time U.S. Marines surged into Taliban-controlled Helmand Province in the south in 2010 to bring counterinsurgency-style protection to the residents there, tens of thousands of them had already moved to those camps in Kabul.)  Afghans in the countryside want to be rid of armed men.  All of them.  Kabulis just want to be secure, and if that means keeping some U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base near the capital, as Afghan and American officials are currently discussing, well, it’s nothing to them.

In fact, most Kabulis I spoke to think that’s what’s going to happen.  After all, American officials have been talking for years about keeping permanent bases in Afghanistan (though they avoid the term “permanent” when speaking to the American press), and American military officers now regularly appear on Afghan TV to say, “The United States will never abandon Afghanistan.”  Afghans reason: Americans would not have spent nearly 12 years fighting in this country if it were not the most strategic place on the planet and absolutely essential to their plans to “push on” Iran and China next.  Everybody knows that pushing on other countries is an American specialty.

Besides, Afghans can see with their own eyes that U.S. command centers, including multiple bases in Kabul, and Bagram Air Base, only 30 miles away, are still being expanded and upgraded.  Beyond the high walls of the American Embassy compound, they can also see the tall new apartment blocks going up for an expanding staff, even if Washington now claims that staff will be reduced in the years to come.

Why, then, would President Obama announce the drawdown of U.S. troops to perhaps a few thousand special operations forces and advisors, if Washington didn’t mean to leave?  Afghans have a theory about that, too.  It’s a ruse, many claim, to encourage all other foreign forces to depart so that the Americans can have everything to themselves.  Afghanistan, as they imagine it, is so important that the U.S., which has fought the longest war in its history there, will be satisfied with nothing less.

I was there to listen, but at times I did mention to Afghans that America’s post-9/11 wars and occupations were threatening to break the country.  “We just can’t afford this war anymore,” I said.

Afghans only laugh at that.  They’ve seen the way Americans throw money around.  They’ve seen the way American money corrupted the Afghan government, and many reminded me that American politicians like Afghan ones are bought and sold, and its elections won by money. Americans, they know, are as rich as Croesus and very friendly, though on the whole not very well mannered or honest or smart.

Operation Enduring Presence      

More than 11 years later, the tragedy of the American war in Afghanistan is simple enough: it has proven remarkably irrelevant to the lives of the Afghan people -- and to American troops as well.  Washington has long appeared to be fighting its own war in defense of a form of government and a set of long-discredited government officials that ordinary Afghans would never have chosen for themselves and have no power to replace.

In the early years of the war (2001-2005), George W. Bush’s administration was far too distracted planning and launching another war in Iraq to maintain anything but a minimal military presence in Afghanistan -- and that mainly outside the capital.  Many journalists (including me) criticized Bush for not finishing the war he started there when he had the chance, but today Kabulis look back on that soldierless period of peace and hope with a certain nostalgia.  In some quarters, the Bush years have even acquired something like the sheen of a lost Golden Age -- compared, that is, to the thoroughgoing militarization of American policy that followed.

So commanding did the U.S. military become in Kabul and Washington that, over the years, it ate the State Department, gobbled up the incompetent bureaucracy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the countryside to carry out maniacal “development” projects and throw bales of cash at all the wrong “leaders.”

Of course, the military also killed a great many people, both “enemies” and civilians.  As in Vietnam, it won the battles, but lost the war.  When I asked Afghans from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north how they accounted for the relative peacefulness and stability of their area, the answer seemed self-evident: “Americans didn’t come here.”

Other consequences, all deleterious, flowed from the militarization of foreign policy.  In Afghanistan and the United States, so intimately ensnarled over all these years, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has grown exponentially, in large part because in both countries the rich have made money off war-making, while ordinary citizens have slipped into poverty for lack of jobs and basic services.

Relying on the military, the U.S. neglected the crucial elements of civil life in Afghanistan that make things bearable -- like education and health care.  Yes, I’ve heard the repeated claims that, thanks to us, millions of children are now attending school.  But for how long?   According to UNICEF, in the years 2005-2010, in the whole of Afghanistan only 18% of boys attended high school, and 6% of girls.  What kind of report card is that?  After 11 years of underfunded work on health care in a country the size of Texas, infant mortality still remains the highest in the world.

By 2014, the defense of Afghanistan will have been handed over to the woeful Afghan National Security Force, also known in military-speak as the “Enduring Presence Force.”  In that year, for Washington, the American war will be officially over, whether it’s actually at an end or not, and it will be up to Afghans to do the enduring.

Here’s where that final scenario -- collapse -- haunts the Kabuli imagination.  Economic collapse means joblessness, poverty, hunger, and a great swelling of the ranks of children cadging a living in the streets.  Already street children are said to number a million strong in Kabul, and 4 million across the country.  Only blocks from the Presidential Palace, they are there in startling numbers selling newspapers, phone cards, toilet paper, or simply begging for small change. Are they the county’s future?

And if the state collapses, too?  Afghans of a certain age remember well the last time the country was left on its own, after the Soviets departed in 1989, and the U.S. also terminated its covert aid.  The mujahideen parties -- Islamists all -- agreed to take turns ruling the country, but things soon fell apart and they took turns instead lobbing rockets into Kabul, killing tens of thousands of civilians, reducing entire districts to rubble, raiding and raping -- until the Taliban came up from the south and put a stop to everything.

Afghan civilians who remember that era hope that this time Karzai will step down as he promises, and that the usual suspects will find ways to maintain traditional power balances, however undemocratic, in something that passes for peace.  Afghan civilians are, however, betting that if a collision comes, one-third of those Afghan Security Forces trained at fabulous expense to protect them will fight for the government (whoever that may be), one-third will fight for the opposition, and one-third will simply desert and go home.  That sounds almost like a plan.

© 2013 Ann Jones

Ann Jones

Ann Jones, writer and photographer, is the author of seven previous books, including War Is Not Over When It's Over, Kabul in Winter, Women Who Kill, and Next Time She'll Be Dead. Since 2001, Jones has worked with women in conflict and post-conflict zones, principally Afghanistan, and reported on their concerns. An authority on violence against women, she has served as a gender adviser to the United Nations. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times and The Nation. For more information, visit her website.

Only Three Choices for Afghan Endgame: Compromise, Conflict, or Collapse

KABUL, Afghanistan – Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings. 2014, of course, is the year of the double whammy in Afghanistan: the next presidential election coupled with the departure of most American and other foreign forces. Many Afghans fear a turn for the worse, while others are no less afraid that everything will stay the same.  Some even think things will get better when the occupying forces leave.  Most predict a more conservative climate, but everyone is quick to say that it’s anybody’s guess.

Only one thing is certain in 2014: it will be a year of American military defeat.  For more than a decade, U.S. forces have fought many types of wars in Afghanistan, from a low-footprint invasion, to multiple surges, to a flirtation with Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, to a ramped-up, gloves-off air war.  And yet, despite all the experiments in styles of war-making, the American military and its coalition partners have ended up in the same place: stalemate, which in a battle with guerrillas means defeat.  For years, a modest-sized, generally unpopular, ragtag set of insurgents has fought the planet’s most heavily armed, technologically advanced military to a standstill, leaving the country shaken and its citizens anxiously imagining the outcome of unpalatable scenarios.

The first, compromise, suggests the possibility of reaching some sort of almost inconceivable power-sharing agreement with multiple insurgent militias.  While Washington presses for negotiations with its designated enemy, “the Taliban,” representatives of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, which includes 12 members of the former Taliban government and many sympathizers, are making the rounds to talk disarmament and reconciliation with all the armed insurgent groups that the Afghan intelligence service has identified across the country. There are 1,500 of them.

One member of the Council told me, “It will take a long time before we get to Mullah Omar [the Taliban’s titular leader].  Some of these militias can’t even remember what they’ve been fighting about.”

The second scenario, open conflict, would mean another dreaded round of civil war like the one in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew in defeat -- the one that destroyed the Afghan capital, Kabul, devastated parts of the country, and gave rise to the Taliban.

The third scenario, collapse, sounds so apocalyptic that it’s seldom brought up by Afghans, but it’s implied in the exodus already underway of those citizens who can afford to leave the country.  The departures aren’t dramatic.  There are no helicopters lifting off the roof of the U.S. Embassy with desperate Afghans clamoring to get on board; just a record number of asylum applications in 2011, a year in which, according to official figures, almost 36,000 Afghans were openly looking for a safe place to land, preferably in Europe.  That figure is likely to be at least matched, if not exceeded, when the U.N. releases the complete data for 2012.

In January, I went to Kabul to learn what old friends and current officials are thinking about the critical months ahead.  At the same time, Afghan President Karzai flew to Washington to confer with President Obama.  Their talks seem to have differed radically from the conversations I had with ordinary Afghans. In Kabul, where strange rumors fly, an official reassured me that the future looked bright for the country because Karzai was expected to return from Washington with the promise of American radar systems, presumably for the Afghan Air Force, which is not yet “operational.” (He actually returned with the promise of helicopters, cargo planes, fighter jets, and drones.) Who knew that the fate of the nation and its suffering citizens hinged on that?  In my conversations with ordinary Afghans, one thing that never came up was radar.

Another term that never seems to enter ordinary Afghan conversation, much as it obsesses Americans, is “al-Qaeda.” President Obama, for instance, announced at a joint press conference with President Karzai: “Our core objective -- the reason we went to war in the first place -- is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America.”  An Afghan journalist asked me, “Why does he worry so much about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Doesn’t he know they are everywhere else?”

At the same Washington press conference, Obama said, “The nation we need to rebuild is our own.” Afghans long ago gave up waiting for the U.S. to make good on its promises to rebuild theirs. What’s now striking, however, is the vast gulf between the pronouncements of American officialdom and the hopes of ordinary Afghans.  It’s a gap so wide you would hardly think -- as Afghans once did -- that we are fighting for them.

To take just one example: the official American view of events in Afghanistan is wonderfully black and white.  The president, for instance, speaks of the way U.S. forces heroically “pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.” Like other top U.S. officials over the years, he forgets whom we pushed into the Afghan government, our “stronghold” in the years after the 2001 invasion: ex-Taliban and Taliban-like fundamentalists, the most brutal civil warriors, and serial human rights violators.

Afghans, however, haven’t forgotten just whom the U.S. put in place to govern them -- exactly the men they feared and hated most in exactly the place where few Afghans wanted them to be.  Early on, between 2002 and 2004, 90% of Afghans surveyed nationwide told the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that such men should not be allowed to hold public office; 76% wanted them tried as war criminals.

In my recent conversations, many Afghans still cited the first loya jirga, an assembly convened in 2003 to ratify the newly drafted constitution, or the first presidential election in 2004, or the parliamentary election of 2005, all held under international auspices, as the moments when the aspirations of Afghans and the “international community” parted company. In that first parliament, as in the earlier gatherings, most of the men were affiliated with armed militias; every other member was a former jihadi, and nearly half were affiliated with fundamentalist Islamist parties, including the Taliban.

In this way, Afghans were consigned to live under a government of bloodstained warlords and fundamentalists, who turned out to be Washington’s guys.  Many had once battled the Soviets using American money and weapons, and quite a few, like the former warlord, druglord, minister of defense, and current vice-president Muhammad Qasim Fahim, had been very chummy with the CIA.

In the U.S., such details of our Afghan War, now in its 12th year, are long forgotten, but to Afghans who live under the rule of the same old suspects, the memory remains painfully raw.  Worse, Afghans know that it is these very men, rearmed and ready, who will once again compete for power in 2014.

How to Vote Early in Afghanistan

President Karzai is barred by term limits from standing for reelection in 2014, but many Kabulis believe he reached a private agreement with the usual suspects at a meeting late last year. In early January, he seemed to seal the deal by announcing that, for the sake of frugality, the voter cards issued for past elections will be reused in 2014.  Far too many of those cards were issued for the 2004 election, suspiciously more than the number of eligible voters.  During the 2009 campaign, anyone could buy fistfuls of them at bargain basement prices.  So this decision seemed to kill off the last faint hope of an election in which Afghans might actually have a say about the leadership of the country.

Fewer than 35% of voters cast ballots in the last presidential contest, when Karzai’s men were caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.  (Afterward, President Obama phoned to congratulate Karzai on his “victory.”) Only dedicated or paid henchmen are likely to show up for the next “good enough for Afghans” exercise in democracy. Once again, an “election” may be just the elaborate stage set for announcing to a disillusioned public the names of those who will run the show in Kabul for the next few years.

Kabulis might live with that, as they’ve lived with Karzai all these years, but they fear power-hungry Afghan politicians could “compromise” as well with insurgent leaders like that old American favorite from the war against the Soviets, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who recently told a TV audience that he intends to claim his rightful place in government. Such compromises could stick the Afghan people with a shaky power-sharing deal among the most ultra-conservative, self-interested, sociopathic, and corrupt men in the country.  If that deal, in turn, were to fall apart, as most power-sharing agreements worldwide do within a year or two, the big men might well plunge the country back into a 1990s-style civil war, with no regard for the civilians caught in their path.

These worst-case scenarios are everyday Kabuli nightmares.  After all, during decades of war, the savvy citizens of the capital have learned to expect the worst from the men currently characterized in a popular local graffiti this way: “Mujahideen=Criminals. Taliban=Dumbheads.”

Ordinary Kabulis express reasonable fears for the future of the country, but impatient free-marketeering businessmen are voting with their feet right now, or laying plans to leave soon. They’ve made Kabul hum (often with foreign aid funds, which are equivalent to about 90% of the country’s economic activity), but they aren’t about to wait around for the results of election 2014.  Carpe diem has become their version of financial advice.  As a result, they are snatching what they can and packing their bags.

Millions of dollars reportedly take flight from Kabul International Airport every day: officially about $4.6 billion in 2011, or just about the size of Afghanistan’s annual budget. Hordes of businessmen and bankers (like those who, in 2004, set up the Ponzi scheme called the Kabul Bank, from which about a billion dollars went missing) are heading for cushy spots like Dubai, where they have already established residence on prime real estate.

As they take their investments elsewhere and the American effort winds down, the Afghan economy contracts ever more grimly, opportunities dwindle, and jobs disappear.  Housing prices in Kabul are falling for the first time since the start of the occupation as rich Afghans and profiteering private American contractors, who guzzled the money that Washington and the “international community” poured into the country, move on.

At the same time, a money-laundering building boom in Kabul appears to have stalled, leaving tall, half-built office blocks like so many skeletons amid the scalloped Pakistani palaces, vertical malls, and grand madrassas erected in the past four or five years by political and business insiders and well-connected conservative clerics.

Most of the Afghan tycoons seeking asylum elsewhere don’t fear for their lives, just their pocketbooks: they’re not political refugees, but free-market rats abandoning the sinking ship of state.  Joining in the exodus (but not included in the statistics) are countless illegal émigrés seeking jobs or fleeing for their lives, paying human smugglers money they can’t afford as they head for Europe by circuitous and dangerous routes.

Threatened Afghans have fled from every abrupt change of government in the last century, making them the largest population of refugees from a single country on the planet.  Once again, those who can are voting with their feet (or their pocketbooks) -- and voting early.

Afghanistan’s historic tragedy is that its violent political shifts -- from king to communists to warlords to religious fundamentalists to the Americans -- have meant the flight of the very people most capable of rebuilding the country along peaceful and prosperous lines.  And their departure only contributes to the economic and political collapse they themselves seek to avoid.  Left behind are ordinary Afghans -- the illiterate and unskilled, but also a tough core of educated, ambitious citizens, including women’s rights activists, unwilling to surrender their dream of living once again in a free and peaceful Afghanistan.

The Military Monster

These days Kabul resounds with the blasts of suicide bombers, IEDs, and sporadic gunfire.  Armed men are everywhere in anonymous uniforms that defy identification.  Any man with money can buy a squad of bodyguards, clad in classy camouflage and wraparound shades, and armed with assault weapons.  Yet Kabulis, trying to carry on normal lives in the relative safety of the capital, seem to maintain a distance from the war going on in the provinces.

Asked that crucial question -- do you think American forces should stay or go? -- the Kabulis I talked with tended to answer in a theoretical way, very unlike the visceral response one gets in the countryside, where villages are bombed and civilians killed, or in the makeshift camps for internally displaced people that now crowd the outer fringes of Kabul. (By the time U.S. Marines surged into Taliban-controlled Helmand Province in the south in 2010 to bring counterinsurgency-style protection to the residents there, tens of thousands of them had already moved to those camps in Kabul.)  Afghans in the countryside want to be rid of armed men.  All of them.  Kabulis just want to be secure, and if that means keeping some U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base near the capital, as Afghan and American officials are currently discussing, well, it’s nothing to them.

In fact, most Kabulis I spoke to think that’s what’s going to happen.  After all, American officials have been talking for years about keeping permanent bases in Afghanistan (though they avoid the term “permanent” when speaking to the American press), and American military officers now regularly appear on Afghan TV to say, “The United States will never abandon Afghanistan.”  Afghans reason: Americans would not have spent nearly 12 years fighting in this country if it were not the most strategic place on the planet and absolutely essential to their plans to “push on” Iran and China next.  Everybody knows that pushing on other countries is an American specialty.

Besides, Afghans can see with their own eyes that U.S. command centers, including multiple bases in Kabul, and Bagram Air Base, only 30 miles away, are still being expanded and upgraded.  Beyond the high walls of the American Embassy compound, they can also see the tall new apartment blocks going up for an expanding staff, even if Washington now claims that staff will be reduced in the years to come.

Why, then, would President Obama announce the drawdown of U.S. troops to perhaps a few thousand special operations forces and advisors, if Washington didn’t mean to leave?  Afghans have a theory about that, too.  It’s a ruse, many claim, to encourage all other foreign forces to depart so that the Americans can have everything to themselves.  Afghanistan, as they imagine it, is so important that the U.S., which has fought the longest war in its history there, will be satisfied with nothing less.

I was there to listen, but at times I did mention to Afghans that America’s post-9/11 wars and occupations were threatening to break the country.  “We just can’t afford this war anymore,” I said.

Afghans only laugh at that.  They’ve seen the way Americans throw money around.  They’ve seen the way American money corrupted the Afghan government, and many reminded me that American politicians like Afghan ones are bought and sold, and its elections won by money. Americans, they know, are as rich as Croesus and very friendly, though on the whole not very well mannered or honest or smart.

Operation Enduring Presence      

More than 11 years later, the tragedy of the American war in Afghanistan is simple enough: it has proven remarkably irrelevant to the lives of the Afghan people -- and to American troops as well.  Washington has long appeared to be fighting its own war in defense of a form of government and a set of long-discredited government officials that ordinary Afghans would never have chosen for themselves and have no power to replace.

In the early years of the war (2001-2005), George W. Bush’s administration was far too distracted planning and launching another war in Iraq to maintain anything but a minimal military presence in Afghanistan -- and that mainly outside the capital.  Many journalists (including me) criticized Bush for not finishing the war he started there when he had the chance, but today Kabulis look back on that soldierless period of peace and hope with a certain nostalgia.  In some quarters, the Bush years have even acquired something like the sheen of a lost Golden Age -- compared, that is, to the thoroughgoing militarization of American policy that followed.

So commanding did the U.S. military become in Kabul and Washington that, over the years, it ate the State Department, gobbled up the incompetent bureaucracy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the countryside to carry out maniacal “development” projects and throw bales of cash at all the wrong “leaders.”

Of course, the military also killed a great many people, both “enemies” and civilians.  As in Vietnam, it won the battles, but lost the war.  When I asked Afghans from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north how they accounted for the relative peacefulness and stability of their area, the answer seemed self-evident: “Americans didn’t come here.”

Other consequences, all deleterious, flowed from the militarization of foreign policy.  In Afghanistan and the United States, so intimately ensnarled over all these years, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has grown exponentially, in large part because in both countries the rich have made money off war-making, while ordinary citizens have slipped into poverty for lack of jobs and basic services.

Relying on the military, the U.S. neglected the crucial elements of civil life in Afghanistan that make things bearable -- like education and health care.  Yes, I’ve heard the repeated claims that, thanks to us, millions of children are now attending school.  But for how long?   According to UNICEF, in the years 2005-2010, in the whole of Afghanistan only 18% of boys attended high school, and 6% of girls.  What kind of report card is that?  After 11 years of underfunded work on health care in a country the size of Texas, infant mortality still remains the highest in the world.

By 2014, the defense of Afghanistan will have been handed over to the woeful Afghan National Security Force, also known in military-speak as the “Enduring Presence Force.”  In that year, for Washington, the American war will be officially over, whether it’s actually at an end or not, and it will be up to Afghans to do the enduring.

Here’s where that final scenario -- collapse -- haunts the Kabuli imagination.  Economic collapse means joblessness, poverty, hunger, and a great swelling of the ranks of children cadging a living in the streets.  Already street children are said to number a million strong in Kabul, and 4 million across the country.  Only blocks from the Presidential Palace, they are there in startling numbers selling newspapers, phone cards, toilet paper, or simply begging for small change. Are they the county’s future?

And if the state collapses, too?  Afghans of a certain age remember well the last time the country was left on its own, after the Soviets departed in 1989, and the U.S. also terminated its covert aid.  The mujahideen parties -- Islamists all -- agreed to take turns ruling the country, but things soon fell apart and they took turns instead lobbing rockets into Kabul, killing tens of thousands of civilians, reducing entire districts to rubble, raiding and raping -- until the Taliban came up from the south and put a stop to everything.

Afghan civilians who remember that era hope that this time Karzai will step down as he promises, and that the usual suspects will find ways to maintain traditional power balances, however undemocratic, in something that passes for peace.  Afghan civilians are, however, betting that if a collision comes, one-third of those Afghan Security Forces trained at fabulous expense to protect them will fight for the government (whoever that may be), one-third will fight for the opposition, and one-third will simply desert and go home.  That sounds almost like a plan.

© 2013 Ann Jones

Ann Jones

Ann Jones, writer and photographer, is the author of seven previous books, including War Is Not Over When It's Over, Kabul in Winter, Women Who Kill, and Next Time She'll Be Dead. Since 2001, Jones has worked with women in conflict and post-conflict zones, principally Afghanistan, and reported on their concerns. An authority on violence against women, she has served as a gender adviser to the United Nations. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times and The Nation. For more information, visit her website.

Britain’s Moral Standing ‘At Risk’ Over Plans For Secret Court Hearings

Britain's moral standing in the world is at risk unless major changes are made to a controversial piece of legislation that will see a rise in secret court hearings, a joint report from a senior Tory and a human rights barrister has warned. The Justic...

Kiriakou and Stuxnet: The Danger of the Still-Escalating Obama Whistleblower War

The permanent US national security state has used extreme secrecy to shield its actions from democratic accountability ever since its creation after World War II. But those secrecy powers were dramatically escalated in the name of 9/11 and the War on Terror, such that most of what the US government now does of any significance is completely hidden from public knowledge. Two recent events - the sentencing last week of CIA torture whistleblower John Kirikaou to 30 months in prison and the invasive investigation to find the New York Times' source for its reporting on the US role in launching cyberwarfare at Iran - demonstrate how devoted the Obama administration is not only to maintaining, but increasing, these secrecy powers.Former CIA officer John Kiriakou becomes the only government official convicted in connection with the US torture program: not for having done it, but for having talked about it. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

When WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables in 2010, government defenders were quick to insist that most of those documents were banal and uninteresting. And that's true: most (though by no means all) of those cables contained nothing of significance. That, by itself, should have been a scandal. All of those documents were designated as "secret", making it a crime for government officials to reveal their contents - despite how insignificant most of it was. That revealed how the US government reflexively - really automatically - hides anything and everything it does behind this wall of secrecy: they have made it a felony to reveal even the most inconsequential and pedestrian information about its actions.

This is why whistleblowing - or, if you prefer, unauthorized leaks of classified information - has become so vital to preserving any residual amounts of transparency. Given how subservient the federal judiciary is to government secrecy claims, it is not hyperbole to describe unauthorized leaks as the only real avenue remaining for learning about what the US government does - particularly for discovering the bad acts it commits. That is why the Obama administration is waging an unprecedented war against it - a war that continually escalates - and it is why it is so threatening.

To understand the Obama White House's obsession with punishing leaks - as evidenced by its historically unprecedented war on whistleblowers - just consider how virtually every significant revelation of the bad acts of the US government over the last decade came from this process. Unauthorized leaks are how we learned about the Bush administration's use of torture, the NSA's illegal eavesdropping on Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the secret network of CIA "black sites" beyond the reach of law or human rights monitoring, the targeting by Obama of a US citizen for assassination without due process, the re-definition of "militant" to mean "any military age male in a strike zone", the video of a US Apache helicopter gunning down journalists and rescuers in Baghdad, the vastly under-counted civilians deaths caused by the war in Iraq, and the Obama administration's campaign to pressure Germany and Spain to cease criminal investigations of the US torture regime.

In light of this, it should not be difficult to understand why the Obama administration is so fixated on intimidating whistleblowers and going far beyond any prior administration - including those of the secrecy-obsessed Richard Nixon and George W Bush - to plug all leaks. It's because those methods are the only ones preventing the US government from doing whatever it wants in complete secrecy and without any accountability of any kind.

Silencing government sources is the key to disabling investigative journalism and a free press. That is why the New Yorker's Jane Mayer told whistleblowing advocate Jesselyn Radack last April: "when our sources are prosecuted, the news-gathering process is criminalized, so it's incumbent upon all journalists to speak up."

Indeed, if you talk to leading investigative journalists they will tell you that the Obama war on whistleblowers has succeeded in intimidating not only journalists' sources but also investigative journalists themselves. Just look at the way the DOJ has pursued and threatened with prison one of the most accomplished and institutionally protected investigative journalists in the country - James Risen - and it's easy to see why the small amount of real journalism done in the US, most driven by unauthorized leaks, is being severely impeded. This morning's Washington Post article on the DOJ's email snooping to find the NYT's Stuxnet source included this anonymous quote: "People are feeling less open to talking to reporters given this uptick. There is a definite chilling effect in government due to these investigations."

For authoritarians who view assertions of government power as inherently valid and government claims as inherently true, none of this will be bothersome. Under that mentality, if the government decrees that something shall be secret, then it should be secret, and anyone who defies that dictate should be punished as a felon - or even a traitor. That view is typically accompanied by the belief that we can and should trust our leaders to be good and do good even if they exercise power in the dark, so that transparency is not only unnecessary but undesirable.

But the most basic precepts of human nature, political science, and the American founding teach that power exercised in the dark will be inevitably abused. Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power. That's why those who wield political power are always driven to destroy methods of transparency. About this fact, Thomas Jefferson wrote in an 1804 letter to John Tyler [emphasis added]:

"Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues of truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions."

About all that, Yale law professor David A Schultz observed: "For Jefferson, a free press was the tool of public criticism. It held public officials accountable, opening them up to the judgment of people who could decide whether the government was doing good or whether it had anything to hide. . . . A democratic and free society is dependent upon the media to inform."

There should be no doubt that destroying this method of transparency - not protection of legitimate national security secrets- is the primary effect, and almost certainly the intent, of this unprecedented war on whistleblowers. Just consider the revelations that have prompted the Obama DOJ's war on whistleblowers, whereby those who leak are not merely being prosecuted, but threatened with decades or even life in prison for "espionage" or "aiding the enemy".

Does anyone believe it would be better if we remained ignorant about the massive waste, corruption and illegality plaguing the NSA's secret domestic eavesdropping program (Thomas Drake); or the dangerously inept CIA effort to infiltrate the Iranian nuclear program but which ended up assisting that program (Jeffrey Sterling); or the overlooking of torture squads in Iraq, the gunning down of journalists and rescuers in Baghdad, or the pressure campaign to stop torture investigations in Spain and Germany (Bradley Manning); or the decision by Obama to wage cyberwar on Iran, which the Pentagon itself considers an act of war (current DOJ investigation)?

Like all of the Obama leak prosecutions - see here - none of those revelations resulted in any tangible harm, yet all revealed vital information about what our government was doing in secret. As long-time DC lawyer Abbe Lowell, who represents indicted whistleblower Stephen Kim, put it: what makes the Obama DOJ's prosecutions historically unique is that they "don't distinguish between bad people - people who spy for other governments, people who sell secrets for money - and people who are accused of having conversations and discussions". Not only doesn't it draw this distinction, but it is focused almost entirely on those who leak in order to expose wrongdoing and bring about transparency and accountability.

That is the primary impact of all of this. A Bloomberg report last October on this intimidation campaign summarized the objections this way: "the president's crackdown chills dissent, curtails a free press and betrays Obama's initial promise to 'usher in a new era of open government.'"

The Obama administration does not dislike leaks of classified information. To the contrary, it is a prolific exploiter of exactly those types of leaks - when they can be used to propagandize the citizenry to glorify the president's image as a tough guy, advance his political goals or produce a multi-million-dollar Hollywood film about his greatest conquest. Leaks are only objectionable when they undercut that propaganda by exposing government deceit, corruption and illegality.

Few events have vividly illustrated this actual goal as much as the lengthy prison sentence this week meted out to former CIA officer John Kiriakou. It's true that Kiriakou is not a pure anti-torture hero given that, in his first public disclosures, he made inaccurate claims about the efficacy of waterboarding. But he did also unequivocally condemn waterboarding and other methods as torture. And, as FAIR put it this week, whatever else is true: "The only person to do time for the CIA's torture policies appears to be a guy who spoke publicly about them, not any of the people who did the actual torturing."

Despite zero evidence of any harm from his disclosures, the federal judge presiding over his case - the reliably government-subservient US District Judge Leonie Brinkema - said she "would have given Kiriakou much more time if she could." As usual, the only real criminals in the government are those who expose or condemn its wrongdoing.

Exactly the same happened with revelations by the New York Times of the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program. None of the officials who eavesdropped on Americans without the warrants required by law were prosecuted. The telecoms that illegally cooperated were retroactively immunized from all legal accountability by the US Congress. The only person to suffer recriminations from that scandal was Thomas Tamm, the mid-level DOJ official who discovered the program and told the New York Times about it, and then had his life ruined with vindictive investigations.

This Obama whistleblower war has nothing to do with national security. It has nothing to do with punishing those who harm the country with espionage or treason.

It has everything to do with destroying those who expose high-level government wrongdoing. It is particularly devoted to preserving the government's ability to abuse its power in secret by intimidating and deterring future acts of whistleblowing and impeding investigative journalism. This Obama whistleblower war continues to escalate because it triggers no objections from Republicans (who always adore government secrecy) or Democrats (who always adore what Obama does), but most of all because it triggers so few objections from media outlets, which - at least in theory - suffer the most from what is being done.

© 2012 The Guardian

Glenn Greenwald

Kiriakou and Stuxnet: The Danger of the Still-Escalating Obama Whistleblower War

The permanent US national security state has used extreme secrecy to shield its actions from democratic accountability ever since its creation after World War II. But those secrecy powers were dramatically escalated in the name of 9/11 and the War on Terror, such that most of what the US government now does of any significance is completely hidden from public knowledge. Two recent events - the sentencing last week of CIA torture whistleblower John Kirikaou to 30 months in prison and the invasive investigation to find the New York Times' source for its reporting on the US role in launching cyberwarfare at Iran - demonstrate how devoted the Obama administration is not only to maintaining, but increasing, these secrecy powers.Former CIA officer John Kiriakou becomes the only government official convicted in connection with the US torture program: not for having done it, but for having talked about it. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

When WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables in 2010, government defenders were quick to insist that most of those documents were banal and uninteresting. And that's true: most (though by no means all) of those cables contained nothing of significance. That, by itself, should have been a scandal. All of those documents were designated as "secret", making it a crime for government officials to reveal their contents - despite how insignificant most of it was. That revealed how the US government reflexively - really automatically - hides anything and everything it does behind this wall of secrecy: they have made it a felony to reveal even the most inconsequential and pedestrian information about its actions.

This is why whistleblowing - or, if you prefer, unauthorized leaks of classified information - has become so vital to preserving any residual amounts of transparency. Given how subservient the federal judiciary is to government secrecy claims, it is not hyperbole to describe unauthorized leaks as the only real avenue remaining for learning about what the US government does - particularly for discovering the bad acts it commits. That is why the Obama administration is waging an unprecedented war against it - a war that continually escalates - and it is why it is so threatening.

To understand the Obama White House's obsession with punishing leaks - as evidenced by its historically unprecedented war on whistleblowers - just consider how virtually every significant revelation of the bad acts of the US government over the last decade came from this process. Unauthorized leaks are how we learned about the Bush administration's use of torture, the NSA's illegal eavesdropping on Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the secret network of CIA "black sites" beyond the reach of law or human rights monitoring, the targeting by Obama of a US citizen for assassination without due process, the re-definition of "militant" to mean "any military age male in a strike zone", the video of a US Apache helicopter gunning down journalists and rescuers in Baghdad, the vastly under-counted civilians deaths caused by the war in Iraq, and the Obama administration's campaign to pressure Germany and Spain to cease criminal investigations of the US torture regime.

In light of this, it should not be difficult to understand why the Obama administration is so fixated on intimidating whistleblowers and going far beyond any prior administration - including those of the secrecy-obsessed Richard Nixon and George W Bush - to plug all leaks. It's because those methods are the only ones preventing the US government from doing whatever it wants in complete secrecy and without any accountability of any kind.

Silencing government sources is the key to disabling investigative journalism and a free press. That is why the New Yorker's Jane Mayer told whistleblowing advocate Jesselyn Radack last April: "when our sources are prosecuted, the news-gathering process is criminalized, so it's incumbent upon all journalists to speak up."

Indeed, if you talk to leading investigative journalists they will tell you that the Obama war on whistleblowers has succeeded in intimidating not only journalists' sources but also investigative journalists themselves. Just look at the way the DOJ has pursued and threatened with prison one of the most accomplished and institutionally protected investigative journalists in the country - James Risen - and it's easy to see why the small amount of real journalism done in the US, most driven by unauthorized leaks, is being severely impeded. This morning's Washington Post article on the DOJ's email snooping to find the NYT's Stuxnet source included this anonymous quote: "People are feeling less open to talking to reporters given this uptick. There is a definite chilling effect in government due to these investigations."

For authoritarians who view assertions of government power as inherently valid and government claims as inherently true, none of this will be bothersome. Under that mentality, if the government decrees that something shall be secret, then it should be secret, and anyone who defies that dictate should be punished as a felon - or even a traitor. That view is typically accompanied by the belief that we can and should trust our leaders to be good and do good even if they exercise power in the dark, so that transparency is not only unnecessary but undesirable.

But the most basic precepts of human nature, political science, and the American founding teach that power exercised in the dark will be inevitably abused. Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power. That's why those who wield political power are always driven to destroy methods of transparency. About this fact, Thomas Jefferson wrote in an 1804 letter to John Tyler [emphasis added]:

"Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues of truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions."

About all that, Yale law professor David A Schultz observed: "For Jefferson, a free press was the tool of public criticism. It held public officials accountable, opening them up to the judgment of people who could decide whether the government was doing good or whether it had anything to hide. . . . A democratic and free society is dependent upon the media to inform."

There should be no doubt that destroying this method of transparency - not protection of legitimate national security secrets- is the primary effect, and almost certainly the intent, of this unprecedented war on whistleblowers. Just consider the revelations that have prompted the Obama DOJ's war on whistleblowers, whereby those who leak are not merely being prosecuted, but threatened with decades or even life in prison for "espionage" or "aiding the enemy".

Does anyone believe it would be better if we remained ignorant about the massive waste, corruption and illegality plaguing the NSA's secret domestic eavesdropping program (Thomas Drake); or the dangerously inept CIA effort to infiltrate the Iranian nuclear program but which ended up assisting that program (Jeffrey Sterling); or the overlooking of torture squads in Iraq, the gunning down of journalists and rescuers in Baghdad, or the pressure campaign to stop torture investigations in Spain and Germany (Bradley Manning); or the decision by Obama to wage cyberwar on Iran, which the Pentagon itself considers an act of war (current DOJ investigation)?

Like all of the Obama leak prosecutions - see here - none of those revelations resulted in any tangible harm, yet all revealed vital information about what our government was doing in secret. As long-time DC lawyer Abbe Lowell, who represents indicted whistleblower Stephen Kim, put it: what makes the Obama DOJ's prosecutions historically unique is that they "don't distinguish between bad people - people who spy for other governments, people who sell secrets for money - and people who are accused of having conversations and discussions". Not only doesn't it draw this distinction, but it is focused almost entirely on those who leak in order to expose wrongdoing and bring about transparency and accountability.

That is the primary impact of all of this. A Bloomberg report last October on this intimidation campaign summarized the objections this way: "the president's crackdown chills dissent, curtails a free press and betrays Obama's initial promise to 'usher in a new era of open government.'"

The Obama administration does not dislike leaks of classified information. To the contrary, it is a prolific exploiter of exactly those types of leaks - when they can be used to propagandize the citizenry to glorify the president's image as a tough guy, advance his political goals or produce a multi-million-dollar Hollywood film about his greatest conquest. Leaks are only objectionable when they undercut that propaganda by exposing government deceit, corruption and illegality.

Few events have vividly illustrated this actual goal as much as the lengthy prison sentence this week meted out to former CIA officer John Kiriakou. It's true that Kiriakou is not a pure anti-torture hero given that, in his first public disclosures, he made inaccurate claims about the efficacy of waterboarding. But he did also unequivocally condemn waterboarding and other methods as torture. And, as FAIR put it this week, whatever else is true: "The only person to do time for the CIA's torture policies appears to be a guy who spoke publicly about them, not any of the people who did the actual torturing."

Despite zero evidence of any harm from his disclosures, the federal judge presiding over his case - the reliably government-subservient US District Judge Leonie Brinkema - said she "would have given Kiriakou much more time if she could." As usual, the only real criminals in the government are those who expose or condemn its wrongdoing.

Exactly the same happened with revelations by the New York Times of the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program. None of the officials who eavesdropped on Americans without the warrants required by law were prosecuted. The telecoms that illegally cooperated were retroactively immunized from all legal accountability by the US Congress. The only person to suffer recriminations from that scandal was Thomas Tamm, the mid-level DOJ official who discovered the program and told the New York Times about it, and then had his life ruined with vindictive investigations.

This Obama whistleblower war has nothing to do with national security. It has nothing to do with punishing those who harm the country with espionage or treason.

It has everything to do with destroying those who expose high-level government wrongdoing. It is particularly devoted to preserving the government's ability to abuse its power in secret by intimidating and deterring future acts of whistleblowing and impeding investigative journalism. This Obama whistleblower war continues to escalate because it triggers no objections from Republicans (who always adore government secrecy) or Democrats (who always adore what Obama does), but most of all because it triggers so few objections from media outlets, which - at least in theory - suffer the most from what is being done.

© 2012 The Guardian

Glenn Greenwald

CIA’s secret prison: ‘Poland dragging out investigation’

AFP Photo/Anne-Christine Poujoulat

AFP Photo/Anne-Christine Poujoulat

A Polish investigation into secret CIA jails is being suppressed because it will embarrass the top echelon of the country’s government, lawyers of two men held illegally in one of the CIA’s ‘black sites’ in Poland tell media.

Reportedly, the results of this investigation could link some of Poland’s most senior politicians with illegal detention and torture, as well as impact negatively on the relationship between Poland and its key ally, the US, according to Reuters.

The news agency’s sources, including lawyers and human rights activists, reveal that the investigation was halted after the original investigators were taken off the case early last year.

The probe began in 2008 with prosecutors from the capital Warsaw, but in early 2012 the prosecutor-general transferred the investigation to the southern city of Krakow.

"The image is of a complete lack of action," Mikolaj Pietrzak, lawyer for Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri who says he was detained in a CIA jail on Polish soil, told Reuters. "The case is obviously, in my opinion, under political control … The most convenient thing politically is for the case to drag on," Pietrzak added.

Bartlomiej Jankowski, a lawyer for the second alleged ex-detainee, Abu Zubaydah, has confirmed this.

"I am not receiving any information [from prosecutors] about new documents, nor am I informed about any new hearings. This is something that worries me," Jankowski said.

CIA-run prison was discovered in a small remote village Stare Kiejkuty and was operational from December 2002 to the fall of 2003. It was used to transport suspected Al-Qaeda members outside the US territory to interrogate without having to adhere to US law.

Polish officials say the investigators are still in the midst of collecting evidence and the investigation is taking so long because US officials have not been responding to information requests.

In 2006, then-President George W. Bush revealed the US had CIA detention facilities overseas, but no details came out as to their exact locations.However, human rights groups named Afghanistan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Thailand as the most likely hosts.

The CIA’s black sites in Europe are rumored to have detained and tortured suspected terrorists, and to hold them in custody before being transported to the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The sites and the prisoners existed in legal limbo, with no oversight from citizens of the host countries. The CIA is believed to have operated with the knowledge and cooperation of the governments of those countries.

Poland is the second country to have opened a criminal investigation into the matter, after Lithuania (though that case has been closed).

Polish investigation is entering its fifth year, scheduled to end this month, but there are reports that the prosecutors may apply for an extension.

‘Investigation implicated senior levels of Polish government’

One of the main problems with the investigation is the fact that it affects top levels of Polish government, argues Polish Senator Jozef Pinior, who has pushed for a full investigation.

" [The government] are in a sandwich between opening this issue up and the pressure from the hard core of the Polish state, the secret service, the prosecutor's office, who say: 'Let's keep this secret'," Pinior told Reuters.

In response, Prime Minister Donald Tusk's office stated that the investigators are independent from external influence. "No executive body can influence the prosecutor's actions," it said in a statement.

Rumors about Poland hosting a CIA-run prison had circulated for years, though the country's authorities dismissed them as absurd.However, the UN and the Council of Europe had long claimed they had evidence of the site’s existence.

Also aware of the CIA program was Marek Dukaczewski, who was head of military intelligence when the alleged jail was in operation. He was the only one to acknowledge the CIA prison publicly in 2010.

Two prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, claimed they were prisoners at this black site. Polish prosecutors have already given the two ‘victim status’.

Among other possible detainees are self-proclaimed 9/11 terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, perpetrator of the 2000 USS Cole bombing Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Palestinian terror suspect Abu Zubaydah.

‘Assange effectively denied opportunity to enjoy asylum’ – Ecuadorian FM

By not allowing passage to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from London to Latin America, where he was granted asylum, Britain infringes same international documents it vigorously lobbied for, Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino tells RT.

Patino says London's pressure, which forces Assange to live in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain, is a serious infringement of his rights. The WikiLeaks frontman applied for and was eventually granted asylum by Ecuador in August 2012 to avoid UK extradition to Sweden, where police want to question him over sex crime allegations. Assange believes extradition would result in his being turned over to the US and prosecuted for disclosing thousands of classified US documents.

RT:Minister, I’d like to ask you about the situation with Julian Assange. President Correa said that the solution depends entirely on Europe. What is the Ecuadorian Embassy’s stand on the British authorities’ unwavering refusal to let the founder of WikiLeaks leave the country?

Ricardo Patino: It does concern us, and we bring up this issue every day, emphasizing that denying Assange the freedom to leave the UK is a serious infringement on his rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and I’d like to stress the word “universal” – an individual is entitled not only to request asylum, but also to be granted it.

At the time the declaration was penned, the British diplomats insisted that it didn't read “everyone has the right to seek and to be granted asylum”; the Latin American countries suggested this wording: “seek and be granted asylum”. They insisted that it read “to seek and to enjoy asylum”.  Meanwhile, Julian Assange is effectively being denied an opportunity to enjoy asylum.

There are plenty of legal reasons and international regulations that validate Ecuador’s decision to grant asylum to Julian Assange, including the international treaties that our country signed, along with the UK, more than a hundred years ago. We sincerely regret the British government’s failure to make the right decision, but we are not authorized to demand something from them. The UK is independent in its decisions.

Nevertheless, we believe this case concerns the human rights of a specific individual. And it goes back a long time, because Mr. Assange has faced persecution before, and this was also one of the reasons behind Ecuador’s decision. Julian Assange’s life was at risk at the time because of his activities as he exercised his freedom of expression. And we believe that Britain’s refusal to let Mr. Assange leave the country is an encroachment on his rights.

To be sure, we cannot force the UK to let him go, so we have decided to wait for a reasonable period of time. If we fail to find a diplomatic solution within that timeframe – and we keep looking for one; I had requested a meeting with Mr. William Hague for several months before we finally met last September during a UN summit; later, we sent them a communication requesting another meeting, but haven’t received a response as yet – then we will be left with no alternative but to seek legal remedies, which will definitely prove time-consuming, and altogether won’t be the best possible option. A diplomatic solution would be the best option.

The only thing I am empowered to do is courteously request the British government to consider the legal reasons for letting Mr. Assange leave the United Kingdom (which we have laid out for them in detail), and to end this day-to-day practice of disregarding Mr. Assange’s rights, whereby he is being deprived of the opportunity to take up asylum, although a sovereign nation has granted him one a month ago.

'Chavez was strong and firm last time a saw him'

The Ecuadorian foreign minister also shared the latest information on the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is slowly recuperating after a surgery in Cuba. It was the fourth cancer-related operation Chavez has undergone. He was not able to attend his presidential inauguration in Venezuela on January 11, prompting the opposition to call for an early election. The government denied the demands, saying it was based on an incorrect reading of the country's constitution.

RT:Just recently, before this visit of yours, Mr. Patino, you had the opportunity to have a talk with the foreign minister of Venezuela. What is the current condition of Hugo Chavez, could you perhaps give us any details?

Ricardo Patino: I have had a chance to talk to the incumbent foreign minister of Venezuela, and the previous one, Mr. Nicolas Maduro, who later became vice-president, and currently serves as the acting head of state. They told me Mr. Hugo Chavez was feeling better, recuperating after surgery, and I have no doubt on that account.

Those were the first few days following his operation, when Mr. Chavez happened to contract an infection, which Nicolas Maduro informed the entire world about. I don’t doubt those gentlemen’s information, because I had seen President Chavez a few hours prior to his surgery. I was in the hospital together with President Correa, and we had a very long conversation with President Chavez.

It was Monday night, and in the morning he was up for surgery, so there were only a few hours left. Therefore, we wanted to be polite and tried not to be intrusive. But I couldn’t even begin to describe to you the strength I felt in Hugo Chavez when we spoke, the firmness of his handshake. So when they tell you he is in a dire condition, you’d do well to take that with a grain of salt. When I saw Hugo Chavez before the surgery, he was tough, his handshake was firm, and he was in a very good condition.

I didn’t see him after the surgery, but I’ve had contact with his closest relatives and friends, and I was told that he’s conscious. Nicolas Maduro told me that he is recuperating, more than that he’s already taking presidential decisions such as the appointment Elias Jaua [as Venezuela’s new foreign minister] – that was the president’s direct order.

Elias told me this himself last Monday during our meeting. And in a private conversation he told me that he saw the president, and that he’s getting better. My only comment on this is that I’m very glad to hear it, and all Ecuadorians and Latin Americans are very happy that Hugo Chavez, who is the spirit of the Latin American revolution himself, is recovering and will soon come to Venezuela so that the entire population, all the 8,300,000 Venezuelans may celebrate his presence and his presidency.

Pakistan to take US drone issue to UN

Pakistan says it plans to take the issue of US assassination drone attacks on its territory to the United Nations General Assembly in September. Pakistani sources said on Sunday that Islamabad will also contact with the Human Rights Commission to disc...

From the Algerian Terror to Al Qaeda Meets Mali: West’s Hidden Agenda and One...

When it comes to unfamiliar, far-off places, we trust our mainstream media to tell us what is going on with interminable conflicts raging through much of the world, and why—and most media trust Western governments’ explanations.”(Photo: AFP)

Thus, we learn that France (with the United States in the wings) intervened in the bloody upheavals besetting the West African country of Mali in order to help the government battle a threat as ubiquitous and expected as the old Red Menace: Al Qaeda.

But, as is usually true, things are not so simple. In fact, coming to grips with the searing civil war and foreign crisis du jour requires wading through multiple layers of tangled relationships—which threaten to turn the conflict into a yet another protracted, foreign-assisted internecine conflict.

Amid cinematic gun battles claiming the lives of dozens of Western hostages at a gas field in neighboring Algeria, the world may be finally waking up to the complexity of the Malian crisis. Yet many of those who have studied the region in depth saw it coming. “This has for a very long time been an accident waiting to happen,” says Professor David Anderson, an expert of African politics at St Cross College, the University of Oxford.

And no wonder. Because, as always seems to be the case, these benighted and barren provinces sit atop some rather spectacular wealth.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

West Side Story

The current conflict long predates (and ultimately will transcend) the recent-vintage Al Qaeda and all of its amorphous and poorly-defined franchise operations.

For decades now, the Tuaregs—a native Berber tribe whose members are spread across the vast expanse of the Sahara desert—have launched periodic rebellions to gain independence from Mali, Niger, Algeria and other countries in the region, whose territories incorporate lands the Tuaregs claim as their own.

The current crisis may be said to have its roots in another Western intervention, when France, the United States and allies—notably including Islamists with Al Qaeda ties—invaded Mali’s northern neighbor, Libya, under pretenses of protecting a domestic uprising and vanquished the quasi-socialist leader there, Muammar Qaddafi, who had, among other things angered Western financial and business interests. (For more on that poorly understood story, see WhoWhatWhy’s reports, here and here.)

Malian Tuaregs, reinforced by a large contingent of their well-trained and heavily armed non-AlQaedite brethren—who had escaped from Libya after their benefactor, Qaddafi, was routed in 2011–captured the entire northern part of the country early last year.

On April 6, 2012, the Tuaregs in the north declared independence for their territory—which is larger than the state of Texas. By early June, however, clashes had broken out between the secular Tuareg movement (its main representative being the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawa, or MNLA) and Islamists, some of whom are allied with an AQ variant that calls itself Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. The MNLA was pushed out of the main cities, and the Islamists took over the fight against the government.

But wait: things are still more complicated.

Each side consists of many different factions, and many splinter groups add to the complexity. According to some reports, for example, the attack on the Algerian gas field, which ostensibly took place in revenge for the French intervention in Mali, was in fact part of a power struggle between two large Islamist factions, led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abelmalek Droukdel. The Islamist banner is considered by some nothing more than a “legitimate” overlay on a sprawling criminal network that ran kidnap, protection and tobacco smuggling rackets. This mano-a-mano spills over both sides of the border.

More Arcana, Then the Proverbial Pot ‘o Gold

In any case, the president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure, was deposed in March 2012 by the Malian military—ostensibly as a result of his incompetent response to the Tuareg rebellion—an act that seems to have rent a dense web of local and regional relationships. To add a hint of tantalizing but obscure spice, several independent sources suggest that it was actually Toure, with regional and Western acquiescence, who had invited the radical Islamists to use the north as a base.

Consider, for example, the following report from the ground by May Ying Welsh, al-Jazeera’s correspondent:

Al-Qaeda has based itself in northern Mali for 10 years, as part of an alleged secret agreement with Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT), the president of Mali who was deposed in a military coup in March 2012 as northern cities were falling to Tuareg rebels…. While ATT relied increasingly on ethnic militias and special units to crush Tuareg insurgency, the Malian army was starved and demoralised, its hungry soldiers forced to sell their weapons to eat, to watch AQIM parade before their barracks, and planes filled with cocaine landing near their bases. The system was rotten. Could they be blamed for overthrowing it?

Here’s the good news: the explanation for this behavior is simple.

If the Tuaregs in Mali’s north were to achieve independence, this would destabilize all neighboring countries that harbor significant Berber populations. The desert areas inhabited by the nomadic tribes, moreover, contain some of the largest concentrations of valuable natural resources in the world—including gold, uranium, oil, gas, and various industrial metals. Mali alone is the third largest producer of gold in Africa—despite being also one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the United Nations Human Development Index, it ranks 175th of 187 countries, and the standard of living there is considerably below the average for sub-Saharan Africa.

Unlike the Tuaregs, most of the radical Islamists have little interest in independence—they fight largely for the establishment of sharia (Islamic law). For the most part, they are also ruthless against their rivals but avid trading partners—whether in the trade of hostages and cocaine (as has been the case in the region for the last several years) or in natural resources. Despite being a target of the post-9/11 War on Terror, they are often quietly preferred by members of the international community to the more secular local nomads.

It is a delicate balance. Neither the regional countries nor France can allow the Islamists to become too powerful, for fear that they would turn into a destabilizing factor themselves. Their push to take over southern Mali proved to be the last straw, leading to the current intervention.

According to Professor Anderson,

French concerns about wider regional stability are genuine, as are the worries of the Algerian government – who are a major target of some within Al Qaeda. France is the Western power with the strongest geo-political interests and financial investment here. Tthe French have bases in Chad, to give but one example, and fear that instability in Algeria brings it too close to home. [Also they have] 6000 French citizens in Bamako [Mali] alone, [as well as significant] mining interests.

A “French Afghanistan”?

However, the situation could easily spin out of control and become a West African quagmire for France and the neighboring countries which are participating in the UN-sanctioned intervention. The Islamists have threatened to turn Mali into a “French Afghanistan,” and this appears to be more than an empty threat. Mali is almost twice the size of Afghanistan, and with its desert and mountainous terrain in the north, somewhat resembles its Asian counterpart. Central authority was never very well established in that part of the country, if at all.

Robert D. Kaplan, the noted foreign affairs analyst and correspondent, described in a recent Stratfor article his experiences in the region some years ago:

Here the Malian state did not exist. …These aren’t countries so much as city-states—Nouakchott, Bamako, Niamey, Ndjamena—with armies that try to keep some order in the far-flung, far less populated reaches. State armies never have ruled this desert; rather, they have maintained for much of the time a stable cease-fire with the Tuaregs there (often through integration of key Tuareg fighters into local military bases).

The mixture of rugged terrain, a vast expanse populated sparsely with nomadic tribes, and the presence of numerous militias with diverging agendas suggests that the war will be long, brutal and asymmetric.

Thus, when at the start of the operation the French government said that the military was going into Mali merely for several weeks, a colleague who specializes in Russia giggled. “This is exactly what the Russians said before they invaded Afghanistan,” he said. Mere days later, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that his country would continue to be involved in the conflict for “as long as necessary.”

And it all is redolent of foreign adventures past. According to a new report from a French-based human rights group, the “good guys,” i.e. the Malian army, may be carrying out summary executions and brutal abuses of civilians accused—often with no basis—of helping the rebels.

More recently, the MNLA—arguably the only indigenous force capable of taking on the Islamists—suggested through one of its leaders that it was willing to cooperate with the Western intervention forces.

It remains to be seen if a deal can be reached. It seems highly unlikely that the Malian government—or any of the international actors involved—would concede the MNLA’s demand for independence. On the other hand, the secular Tuaregs are reportedly afraid that, as has happened in the past, they will be the main victims of a war against Islamist terror. Given that both sides are under pressure, some sort of a compromise involving an increased autonomy in northern Mali may be possible.

By most accounts, a purely military solution imposed by foreign forces cannot hold. If the intervention forces hope to achieve their goal of stabilizing the country, they would need to negotiate with the Tuaregs and to address the deeper underlying issues. Unfortunately, so far there are few signs of that happening. And the deeper underlying issues do not play well with short-attentioned international audiences.

Oh, wait. Did we mention that there’s gold—and all kinds of amazing stuff, under the ground? Actually, when it comes to that subject, even a dauntingly complex stew like Afghanistan can seem very simple indeed.

© 2012 WhoWhatWhy.com

Victor Kotsev is an independent journalist and political analyst focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter: @vkotsev

‘Your Body Is Not A Crime Scene’: Rape Crisis Charity Blasts US Bill That...

A UK rape charity has blasted a US bill that would legally require victims of rape to carry their pregnancies to term as “horrendous”.

The bill, introduced by New Mexico Republican lawmaker Cathrynn Brown, would potentially charge a rape victim who ended her pregnancy with a third-degree felony for “tampering with evidence.”

Speaking on behalf of Rape Crisis, Jo Wood told Huffington Post UK the proposals were "horrendous" and akin to “re-victimisation”.

cathrynn brown

New Mexico lawmaker Cathrynn Brown has introduced a bill that would charge a rape victim who ended her pregnancy

She said: “Your body is not a crime scene. There are all sorts of forensics that can be carried out after a rape without the need to carry a baby to full term.

“The suggestion that we are legally obliged to put crime scene tape around a rape survivor for nine months is absurd. Words fail me, really.

“If such a thing were suggested in Britain, I am sure there would be a total outcry.”

Brown’s House Bill 206 currently states: “Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.”

Third degree felonies in New Mexico can carry a sentence of up to three years in prison.

Think Progress points out that under the bill if a woman ended her pregnancy after being raped, both she and her doctor could charged. It adds the bill would “add the forced choice between prison or an unwanted pregnancy “ to sexual assault trial proceedings.

SEE ALSO:

The bill has been branded "blatantly unconstitutional" by Pat Davis of progressive non-profit group ProgressNow New Mexico.

He added: “In addition to being blatantly unconstitutional, the bill turns victims of rape and incest, who have just been through a horrible sexual assault, into felons and forces them to become incubators of evidence for the state.

“According to Republican philosophy, victims who are ‘legitimately raped’ will now have to carry the fetus to term in order to prove their case."

The bill is unlikely to pass, as Democrats have a majority in both chambers of New Mexico's state legislature.

Following the outcry over her proposals on Wednesday, Brown issued a statement on Thursday insisting the bill’s goal is to punish the person who commits the incest or rape and then procures or facilitates an abortion to destroy evidence of the crime.

She said: “New Mexico needs to strengthen its laws to deter sex offenders. By adding this law in New Mexico, we can help to protect women across our state.”

Salon points out Brown's damage control campaign is ongoing - with her contact information being removed from her legislature page.

Additionally, Brown tells the Carlsbad Current-Argus the "poorly written" bill is currently being reworked for clarity.

The paper reports Brown missed the "language problems that led to misinterpretation of her bill" and that a "drafting error occurred".

She said: "I started getting real nasty phone calls from people around the country. Some national publications and TV stations published stories that I was against the victim. That's far from the truth. I want to protect the victim."

Rape Crisis is a registered charity and the national umbrella organisation for Rape Crisis Centres across England and Wales. It campaigns to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence and highlights the importance and need for high quality, specialised support.

How Can We Reconcile Freedom-Loving Libertarianism with Tough Prosecution of Fraud?

 

Liberty and Justice Are Not Irreconcilable

I voted for Gary Johnson (and am a huge fan of Ron Paul), and respect and fully-support the libertarian passions for freedom and free markets.

But I am also a tireless crusader for enforcing the rule of law.

You might assume that these are opposite philosophies.  For example, a reader asks:

Your work on the dangers of the American nuclear industry has been really comprehensive, and you have drawn attention to the deception, manipulation, neglect, and willful ignorance of the nuclear industry. For example, I just watched the Al Jazeera video you posted earlier this year (3/12), in which the NRC and the nuclear industry are (rightly) criticized for waiting for harm to happen, instead of preventing it. At the same time, you identify as libertarian, and I believe you supported Gary Johnson in the presidential election. He is opposed to public regulation of industry and has said that post-harm lawsuits -- for example, in medical contexts -- are sufficient to encourage businesses to self-regulate for public safety. Could you please explain how you reconcile the libertarian position against regulation with your clear recognition that too-loose self-regulation of the nuclear industry imperils the public?

Nuclear Power Would Not Exist In a Free Market

Initially, it is undisputed that nuclear power plants would not exist if operators had to obtain funding and insurance through the free market. Private insurers won’t touch nuclear energy. Investors run the other way, because the odds of losing all of their investment are so high.

No private company in the world would operate a nuclear plant unless the government put a very low cap on liability. In many parts of the world, governments cap liability at a mere $13 billion dollars.

This is a little insane, given that “the risk of a nuclear catastrophe … could total trillions of dollars and even bankrupt a country”.

Indeed:

If there was a free market in energy, nuclear power would be over … immediately.

AP notes:

Nuclear power is a viable source for cheap energy only if it goes uninsured.

***

Governments that use nuclear energy are torn between the benefit of low-cost electricity and the risk of a nuclear catastrophe, which could total trillions of dollars and even bankrupt a country.

***

The cost of a worst-case nuclear accident at a plant in Germany, for example, has been estimated to total as much as €7.6 trillion ($11 trillion), while the mandatory reactor insurance is only €2.5 billion.

“The €2.5 billion will be just enough to buy the stamps for the letters of condolence,” said Olav Hohmeyer, an economist at the University of Flensburg who is also a member of the German government’s environmental advisory body.

The situation in the U.S., Japan, China, France and other countries is similar.

***

“Around the globe, nuclear risks — be it damages to power plants or the liability risks resulting from radiation accidents — are covered by the state. The private insurance industry is barely liable,” said Torsten Jeworrek, a board member at Munich Re, one of the world’s biggest reinsurance companies.

***

In financial terms, nuclear incidents can be so devastating that the cost of full insurance would be so high as to make nuclear energy more expensive than fossil fuels.

***

Ultimately, the decision to keep insurance on nuclear plants to a minimum is a way of supporting the industry.

“Capping the insurance was a clear decision to provide a non-negligible subsidy to the technology,” Klaus Toepfer, a former German environment minister and longtime head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said.

U.S. News and World Report reports:

The disaster insurance for nuclear power plants in the United States is currently underwritten by the federal government, Cooper says. Without that safeguard, “nuclear power is neither affordable nor worth the risk. If the owners and operators of nuclear reactors had to face the full liability of a Fukushima-style nuclear accident or go head-to-head with alternatives in a truly competitive marketplace, unfettered by subsidies, no one would have built a nuclear reactor in the past, no one would build one today, and anyone who owns a reactor would exit the nuclear business as quickly as possible.”

See this and this.

In other words, this is not a free market.  Instead, the public has funded the nuclear industry.  As such, we - the owners - should get some control over how nuclear plants operate.

Likewise, the government created the mega-banks, big oil and the other mega-corporations.

Free Market Champions Demand Prosecution of Fraud

A strong rule of law is the main determinant of prosperity.  On the other hand, failure to prosecute fraud is destroying our prosperity.

Nuclear meltdowns, the financial crisis and the Gulf oil spill all happened for the same reason:  fraud to make a few more pennies, and a subsequent cover-up to try to protect the wrongdoers and continue "business as usual". And see this.

This is not free market economics.

Indeed, the father of free market economics - Adam Smith  - leading Austrian economists, and other free market advocates are for the prosecution of fraud:

There is a widespread myth that free market supporters are against regulation or prosecuting fraud.

In fact, Adam Smith – the father of free market capitalism – was for regulation of banks, and believed that trust is vital for a healthy economy. Because strong enforcement of laws against fraud is a basic prerequisite for trust, Smith would be disgusted by the lack of prosecution of Wall Street fraudsters today.

Smith railed against monopolies and their corrupting influence. And Smith was pro-regulation, so long as the regulation benefited the little guy, as opposed to the wealthiest:

When the regulation, therefore, is in support of the workman, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters.

Richard Posner – one of the leading proponents over the course of many decades for removing the reach of the law from the economy – has now changed his mind.

So has another leading proponent of deregulation and turning a blind eye towards fraud: Alan Greenspan.

While some promoters of a fake version of Austrian economics are anti-regulation and against prosecuting fraud, the main Austrian economists were unambiguously for them.

William K. Black – professor of economics and law, and the senior regulator during the S&L crisis – notes that leading Austrian free market economists said that fraud must be prosecuted:

Real Austrian economists … hate elite frauds and want them prosecuted vigorously. Ludwig von Mises and Friederich Hayek are the two most famous Austrian economists.

Hayek, F.A. The Road to Serfdom

To create conditions in which competition will be as effective as possible, to prevent fraud and deception, to break up monopolies— these tasks provide a wide and unquestioned field for state activity.

The Constitution of Liberty

There remains, however, one other kind of harmful action that is generally thought desirable to prevent and which at first might seem distinct. This is fraud and deception. Yet, though it would be straining the meaning of words to call them ‘coercion,’ on examination it appears that the reasons why we want to prevent them are the same as those applying to coercion. Deception, like coercion, is a form of manipulating the data on which a person counts, in order to make him do what deceiver wants him to do. Where it is successful, the deceived becomes in the same manner the unwilling tool, serving another man’s ends without advancing his own. Though we have no single word to cover both, all we have said of coercion applies equally to fraud and deception.

With this correction, it seems that freedom demands no more than that coercion and violence, fraud and deception, be prevented, except for the use of coercion by government for the sole purpose of enforcing known rules intended to ensure the best conditions under which the individual may give his activities a coherent, rational pattern…..

Liberty not only means that the individual has both the opportunity and the burden of choice; it also means that he must bear the consequences of his actions…. Liberty and responsibility are inseparable.

Mises, L.

Government ought to protect the individuals within the country against the violent and fraudulent attacks of gangsters, and it should defend the country against foreign enemies.

Black also notes that fraud is a leading cause of financial bubbles and malinvestment – two of the greatest sins which Austrian economists rightly fight against.

Unless financial fraud is prosecuted, bubbles will be blown … and when they burst, the economy will tank. Fraud – along with bad Federal Reserve policy – is what causes bubbles in the first place.

The Proof Is In the Pudding: Fewer Prosecutions Equals a Worse Economy

Obama has prosecuted fewer financial crimes than any president in decades – less than Ronald Reagan, less than George H.W. Bush, less than Bill Clinton, and less than George W. Bush.

The economy is worse than it has been since the Great Depression, if not before.

See the connection? See this and this.

Everyone Supports Laws Protecting Contract and Private Property Rights

Even the most radical free market advocates support laws protecting contract and private property rights. In other words, they support the judicial branch of government and the basic laws Congress passes to support such rights.

There are obviously good, pro-competitive laws and bad, anti-competitive laws.

Paul Craig Roberts – a true conservative, who was a Wall Street Journal editor and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan, and is widely credited with being the “father of supply-side economics” – points out:

Regulation can increase economic efficiency and … without regulation external costs can offset the value of production.

***

 

Thirty-three years ago in an article in the Journal of Monetary Economics (August 1978), “Idealism in Public Choice Theory,” I developed a model to assess the benefits and costs of regulation. I argued that well-thought-out regulation could be a factor of production that increases GNP. For example, regulation that contributed to the quality and safety of food and medicines contributed to specialization in production and lower costs, and regulations enforcing contracts and private property rights add to economic efficiency.

 

On the other hand, bureaucracies build their empires and extend their regulations into the realm of negative returns. Moreover, as regulations increase, economic managers spend more time in red tape and less in productive activity. As rules proliferate, they become contradictory and result in paralysis.

I had hopes that my analysis would result in a more thoughtful approach to regulation, but to no avail. Liberals continued to argue that more regulation was better, and libertarians maintained than none was best.

Do Anti-Law Advocates Really Want Anarchy?

All sports need a referee. Some players will be bigger or more talented than others, which is great. They have a better chance of outcompeting the other guy and winning.

But without basic rules and referees, ruthless players might use a knife or kick the other guy in the knee. Perhaps we could suspend all rules, and maybe everyone would whip out a knife break the other guy’s kneecap. That’s fine … but that’s not the game of football.

Radicals who believe that we should not have any laws against fraud are implicitly arguing for anarchy. They might not use that word, but that is what they’re arguing for.

But the same Founding Father who argued for periodic revolutions to keep the government honest also argued against tearing down something unless you have something better in mind to replace it? Thomas Jefferson, the most vocal advocate of the citizens’ right to revolt to ensure honest government also cautioned against tearing something down unless it was for the express purpose of replacing it with something better.

Real, deep-thinking anarchists (as opposed to those using fake anarchy philosophy in order to promote lawlessness by the super-elite) are not for destroying all organization.  Instead, they argue for self-organization and self-regulation. See this, this and this.

JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs aren’t reining in one another’s fraud.  Bank of America and MF Global didn’t police each other’s fraud.   Tepco and BP didn’t make sure the companies made accurate reports about their safety measures.  Solyndra and Koch Industries didn’t guard against abuse by the other company.

So if one wants to argue that the Federal government should not regulate financial players, fine (perhaps our country is too big and complex to manage, and the federal government has become too corrupt) … but who should?

The states? Cities? Communities? Neighbors?

Human beings have the ability to form social contracts. Our D.C. government has largely breached it social contract with the people.

But we shouldn’t tear down the federal government unless we replace it with something better.

No one wants to tear down the state of organization so completely that we go back to monkeys (without the ability to talk), or one-celled critters . . . so the question is how do we want to organize?

Do you want to live as a “savage”? In reality, the natives had survival skills, cultural traditions, and knowledge developed over many hundreds or thousands of years (including knowledge gained before the migration from Asia to America), stored in the database of oral traditions. The settlers had traditions and knowledge as well. If we tear away all of that organization, life is going to be pretty challenging.

It is easy for a teenager to criticize his parents, but a lot harder to actually create a better adult life for himself. A teenager looks silly and immature when he criticizes everything his parents do without understanding the challenges he’ll face as an adult. But a young person who rebels against his parents and then creates a better adult life is doing important and heroic work.

In other words, anarchy as an economic model could work if economic players organized in such a way as to police against fraud and criminal behavior (the equivalent of pulling out a knife or taking out someone’s kneecap in the middle of a football game).

This is a long-winded way of saying that we should not stop the government from enforcing fraud laws unless we come up with a more effective way to stop fraud.

The Real Problem ...

While liberals tend to distrust big corporations and conservatives tend to distrust the federal government, it is really the malignant, symbiotic relationship between the two is the root problem.

Too much government overreach? Giant unaccountable corporations?

Maybe ... but the root problem is that corrupt government officials and corrupt corporate fatcats have merged into a crime syndicate.

Do you get it?    Before we can have a real free market, we need to burst the bubble of fraud.

Before we can have a functioning government, we need to stand up to corrupt government officials.

We all need to step out of the left-right dichotomy which is distracting us and dumbing us down.

We need liberty and justice.

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Hate Crimes: A Rape Every Minute, a Thousand Corpses Every Year

There' a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and incessantly overlooked.

January 24, 2013  |  

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Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the  rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who  gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the  gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who  gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who  gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large.  Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.

There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a case  involving a celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this country, in other countries, on every continent including  Antarctica, constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.

If you’d rather talk about bus rapes than gang rapes, there’s the  rape of a developmentally disabled woman on a Los Angeles bus in November and the  kidnapping of an autistic 16-year-old on the regional transit train system in Oakland, California -- she was raped repeatedly by her abductor over two days this winter -- and there was a  gang rape of multiple women on a bus in Mexico City recently, too.  While I was writing this, I read that  another female bus-rider was kidnapped in India and gang-raped all night by the bus driver and five of his friends who must have thought what happened in New Delhi was awesome.

We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible.  But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.  

What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Gender

There’s so much of it. We could talk about the assault and rape of a  73-year-old in Manhattan’s Central Park last September, or the recent rape of a  four-year-old and an  83-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who was  arrested in October for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn’t personal (though maybe it was for the  San Diego man who actually killed and cooked his wife in November and the man from  New Orleans who killed, dismembered, and cooked his girlfriend in 2005).

On The News With Thom Hartmann: Virginia Gerrymanders Presidential Votes, Robin Hood Tax Hits...

Thom Hartmann here – on the news...

You need to know this. Virginia is now poised to be the first state to move legislation forward, which will rig the Electoral College to benefit Republican presidential candidates in the future. On Wednesday, legislation to dole out Electoral College votes based on gerrymandered Congressional districts, instead of the current winner-take-all system, advanced out of a state Senate subcommittee. It now heads to full committee, where it will likely be approved, before heading to the full state Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. So, Republicans have actually taken rigging the next presidential election seriously, with efforts also underway in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio to do the same thing. Progressives must counter with an equally aggressive push for a national popular vote. Nine states have already passed National Popular Vote laws, which commit their electors to vote for whichever candidate wins the national popular vote, even if that candidate lost the state Electoral College vote. Those nine states that have passed national popular vote laws - including California, Maryland, and Illinois - account for 132 electoral votes among them, nearly half of the 270 needed in the Electoral College to win the White House. If this trend continues, and enough states sign up to bring their combined Electoral College votes to 270, then the Electoral College, which Republicans are currently trying to rig, dies just like that. Let's get active and fight fire with fire.

In screwed news...Welcome to America, where you have to go to jail to receive the healthcare you need. The Sun-Sentinel, out of Florida, is reporting on a man who threatened to kill President Obama just so he could be arrested, thrown in jail, and receive much-needed medical care. Fifty-seven year old Stephen Espalin told a judge last week that he, "would have no intent to hurt the president", but he knew federal agents would arrive and "take care of [him]." Espalin made the threat against the President after he was kicked out of a hospital for giving a false name, and lying about having health insurance. Florida's Governor Rick Scott is critical of Obamacare, and is unlikely to adopt the provision in the law that expands Medicaid coverage in his state, which would help people like Espalin. But now that Espalin is headed to jail, he will receive the care he needs. He's already receiving chemotherapy, and once he begins his four year prison sentence, he's scheduled to have heart surgery. This is a cautionary tale of what happens to a nation that doesn't provide basic medical care to its citizens. Either we make healthcare a basic human right in America, just like it is elsewhere in the developed world, or we commit ourselves to unrest, desperation, and a sick population.

In the best of the rest of the news...

Robin Hood is coming to Europe. On Tuesday, 11 European nations agreed to put in place a financial transaction tax – also known as a Robin Hood tax – on the banks. Such a tax could generate billions in much needed revenue for the cash-strapped continent. The tax, which will range between .1% and .01%, will be applied to all trading in stocks, bonds, and derivatives. According to a statement from the European Council, the purpose of this new tax is, "for the financial industry to make a fair contribution to tax revenues, whilst also creating a disincentive for transactions that do not enhance the efficiency of financial markets." The participating nations in this Robin Hood tax make up 90% of the EU – and it's estimated the tax will bring in roughly 37 billion euros annually. According to the European Commissioner in charge of tax policy, Tuesday's agreement was "a major milestone in tax history." Now let's kick start the movement here in the United States to create our own Robin Hood tax.

Well, there's at least one place now that women will soon see workplace equality: in the military. Today, the Pentagon officially announced that it's lifting its ban on women in combat, potentially opening up more than 200,000 new combat positions in the military to women. This decision will pave the way for women to serve on the front lines, for the first time in the history of our armed services. The military will have until May to come up with plans to implement these changes – and each branch of the military will have until 2016 to get official exemptions for certain combat roles, which will remain exclusive to men. From allowing gays to openly serve, to now allowing women in combat, President Obama has taken significant steps to bring equality to our military – and he should applauded for his efforts.

Beware of online surveillance. This week, Google released its Transparency Report, revealing a massive increase in government surveillance. According to the report, Google received over 21,000 requests for data from governments and courts worldwide, just in the second half of 2012. That's a 70% increase from 2009. During that same period, the United State government made the most requests – with more than 8,000 demands for online data. Protecting our online privacy from prying government, and corporate eyes, is the new frontier – and "we the people" are currently losing this struggle.

And finally...following reports that a drone stike in Yemen mistakenly killed two children, the United Nations is launching an official investigation into the legality and death toll of drone warfare. The investigation will focus on 25 different drones strikes carried out by US, UK, and Israeli forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. According to Benn Emmerson, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, this investigation is, "a response to the fact that there's international concern rising exponentially, surrounding the issue of remote targeted killings through the use of unmanned vehicles." This will be President Obama's biggest foreign policy challenge in his second term – winding down our deadly covert drone warfare programs. And it's up to us to push him to do what' right.

And that's the way it is today – Thursday, January 24, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.

Reports of atrocities emerge as France escalates Mali war

mali

Only thirteen days after starting a war in Mali, France is massively escalating its troop presence there, even as reports emerge of escalating ethnic killings by French-backed Malian troops.

On Tuesday the Malian regime extended the state of emergency declared on January 11 for three months. At the same time, French and Malian troops set up positions in central Mali around the strategic airfield at Sévaré.

The airfield was reportedly the main initial target of the French intervention. Paris wanted to keep it from falling into the hands of the northern-based Malian opposition, so France could use the airfield to fly troops and equipment into the region.

French forces are also blocking journalists from reporting from the war zone, to slow the stream of reports of killings of and atrocities against civilians by French and French-backed Malian forces. In Sévaré, at least 11 people were killed at a military camp, near its bus station and its hospital. “Credible information” pointed to about 20 other executions, with the bodies “buried hastily, notably in wells,” the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reported.

A witness said the Malian army “gathered all the people who didn’t have national identity cards and the people they suspected of being close to the Islamists to execute them, and put them in two different wells near a bus station.” The soldiers allegedly poured gasoline into the wells and set them ablaze to hide the evidence.

Residents of Mopti in central Mali said that the Malian army had arrested, interrogated, and tortured innocent civilians, because the army thought that they were involved in the rebellion. Many Tuareg, who originally controlled the north, fled south when the Islamists took over and are being singled out for reprisals. Amnesty International claims to have evidence of extrajudicial killings of Tuareg civilians, the indiscriminate shelling of a Tuareg camp, and the killing of livestock.

A woman of the Fulani ethnic group described her situation: “The army suspects us—if we look like Fulani and don’t have an identity card, they kill us. But many people are born in small villages and it’s very difficult to have identification. We are all afraid. There are some households where Fulanis or others who are fair-skinned don’t go out any more. We have stopped wearing our traditional clothes—we are being forced to abandon our culture, and to stay indoors.”

The Malian army has a record of ethnic killings. Last September a truck with eighteen preachers from Mauritania crossed the border at Diabaly on their way to Bamako for a conference. Though none were armed and they had papers indicating their mission, all were massacred by the troops manning the border checkpoint.

Asked about abuses committed by Malian forces in an interview Wednesday on France 24 television, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian cynically commented, “There’s a risk.”

Amateur cell phone videos on the internet show huge blasts and fireballs in living areas, and bloggers from Mali are reporting numerous casualties. The United Nations has reported that thousands of people have been forced from their homes over the past ten days. An estimated 230,000 people are now displaced across the country. According to Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the United Nations’ refugee agency, the violence could soon displace up to 700,000 in Mali and around the region.

The Norwegian Internal Displacement Monitoring Center reported that people in the north were increasingly heading into the desert, as Algeria had closed its borders. Many are fleeing on foot because they cannot afford boats or buses.

Sory Diakite, the mayor of Konna, who fled to Bamako with his family after a French raid, described the bombing of his town. He said that during the assault in the first days of the war, people “were killed inside their courtyards, or outside their homes. People were trying to flee to find refuge. Some drowned in the river. At least three children threw themselves in the river in order to avoid the bombs. They were trying to swim to the other side.”

The constant increase in the number of soldiers, the massive build-up of ever-deadlier weapons and the increasing willingness of its allies to step up their support signify that such violence will only continue to escalate.

France is deploying more soldiers and more high-tech weaponry. Some 2,150 French soldiers are in Mali, and their number will rise to 5,000 by the end of the month.

The African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) will comprise almost 6,000 soldiers, instead of the initially planned 3,300 soldiers, costing around $500 million.

The Gazelle helicopters that participated in the first wave of French air attacks are being replaced by Tiger helicopter gunships, which have a longer range and greater firepower. “Cheetah” units based in France have been placed on alert, including a number of Leclerc heavy tanks and units armed with truck-mounted 155-millimeter artillery pieces.

So far nearly 1,000 African troops from Benin, Nigeria, Togo and Burkina Faso have arrived in Mali. Senegalese troops and up to 2,000 soldiers from Chad are on the way. Their transport is being provided by France’s allies: Denmark, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Emirates, and Canada. Italy approved sending 15 to 24 military instructors to work alongside the European Union (EU) in training Malian forces and also agreed to provide logistical support with at least two cargo planes.

US forces began their mission in support of the Mali war on Monday. Five four-engine C-17 planes took off from the Istres-LeTubé airbase in southern France, loaded with French cargo which they dropped off in the Malian capital, Bamako.

According to German news magazine Der Spiegel, British forces were on “high alert” for possible deployment in Mali, in case France asks for help. The British foreign ministry denied the report, however.

Yesterday French Rafale and Mirage jets bombed targets near Gao, Timbuktu and Ansongo, a town near the border with Niger. Col. Oumar Kande, ECOWAS military and security adviser in Mali, said, “It is possible we will win back Timbuktu, Gao, and Kidal in a month, but it is impossible to say how long the overall war will last.”

Kande’s words are in line with remarks by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said that the Mali war might last years or decades.

The Longest War is the One Against Women

Artists in San Francisco protesting violence against women. (Photo: Marta Franco/ SFGate)Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large.  Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.

There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a case involving a celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this country, in other countries, on every continent including Antarctica, constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.

If you’d rather talk about bus rapes than gang rapes, there’s the rape of a developmentally disabled woman on a Los Angeles bus in November and the kidnapping of an autistic 16-year-old on the regional transit train system in Oakland, California -- she was raped repeatedly by her abductor over two days this winter -- and there was a gang rape of multiple women on a bus in Mexico City recently, too.  While I was writing this, I read that another female bus-rider was kidnapped in India and gang-raped all night by the bus driver and five of his friends who must have thought what happened in New Delhi was awesome.

We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible.  But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.  

What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Gender

There’s so much of it. We could talk about the assault and rape of a 73-year-old in Manhattan’s Central Park last September, or the recent rape of a four-year-old and an 83-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who was arrested in October for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn’t personal (though maybe it was for the San Diego man who actually killed and cooked his wife in November and the man from New Orleans who killed, dismembered, and cooked his girlfriend in 2005).

Those are all exceptional crimes, but we could also talk about quotidian assaults, because though a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country, the estimated total is perhaps five times as high. Which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the U.S.  It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims.

We could talk about high-school- and college-athlete rapes, or campus rapes, to which university authorities have been appallingly uninterested in responding in many cases, including that high school in Steubenville, Notre Dame University, Amherst College, and many others. We could talk about the escalating pandemic of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the U.S. military, where Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta estimated that there were 19,000 sexual assaults on fellow soldiers in 2010 alone and that the great majority of assailants got away with it, though four-star general Jeffrey Sinclair was indicted in September for “a slew of sex crimes against women.”

Never mind workplace violence, let’s go home.  So many men murder their partners and former partners that we have well over 1,000 homicides of that kind a year -- meaning that every three years the death toll tops 9/11’s casualties, though no one declares a war on this particular terror. (Another way to put it: the more than 11,766 corpses from domestic-violence homicides since 9/11 exceed the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the “war on terror.”) If we talked about crimes like these and why they are so common, we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or male roles, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.

If we talked about crimes like these...we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.

Instead, we hear that American men commit murder-suicides -- at the rate of about 12 a week -- because the economy is bad, though they also do it when the economy is good; or that those men in India murdered the bus-rider because the poor resent the rich, while other rapes in India are explained by how the rich exploit the poor; and then there are those ever-popular explanations: mental problems and intoxicants -- and for jocks, head injuries. The latest spin is that lead exposure was responsible for a lot of our violence, except that both genders are exposed and one commits most of the violence. The pandemic of violence always gets explained as anything but gender, anything but what would seem to be the broadest explanatory pattern of all.

Someone wrote a piece about how white men seem to be the ones who commit mass murders in the U.S. and the (mostly hostile) commenters only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says what this medical study does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family.”

Still, the pattern is plain as day. We could talk about this as a global problem, looking at the epidemic of assault, harassment, and rape of women in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that has taken away the freedom they celebrated during the Arab Spring -- and led some men there to form defense teams to help counter it -- or the persecution of women in public and private in India from “Eve-teasing” to bride-burning, or “honor killings” in South Asia and the Middle East, or the way that South Africa has become a global rape capital, with an estimated 600,000 rapes last year, or how rape has been used as a tactic and “weapon” of war in Mali, Sudan, and the Congo, as it was in the former Yugoslavia, or the pervasiveness of rape and harassment in Mexico and the femicide in Juarez, or the denial of basic rights for women in Saudi Arabia and the myriad sexual assaults on immigrant domestic workers there, or the way that the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in the United States revealed what impunity he and others had in France, and it’s only for lack of space I’m leaving out Britain and Canada and Italy (with its ex-prime minister known for his orgies with the underaged), Argentina and Australia and so many other countries.

Who Has the Right to Kill You?

But maybe you’re tired of statistics, so let’s just talk about a single incident that happened in my city a couple of weeks ago, one of many local incidents in which men assaulted women that made the local papers this month:

“A woman was stabbed after she rebuffed a man's sexual advances while she walked in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood late Monday night, a police spokesman said today. The 33-year-old victim was walking down the street when a stranger approached her and propositioned her, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said. When she rejected him, the man became very upset and slashed the victim in the face and stabbed her in the arm, Esparza said.”

The man, in other words, framed the situation as one in which his chosen victim had no rights and liberties, while he had the right to control and punish her. This should remind us that violence is first of all authoritarian. It begins with this premise: I have the right to control you.

Murder is the extreme version of that authoritarianism, where the murderer asserts he has the right to decide whether you live or die, the ultimate means of controlling someone.  This may be true even if you are “obedient,” because the desire to control comes out of a rage that obedience can’t assuage. Whatever fears, whatever sense of vulnerability may underlie such behavior, it also comes out of entitlement, the entitlement to inflict suffering and even death on other people. It breeds misery in the perpetrator and the victims.    

As for that incident in my city, similar things happen all the time.  Many versions of it happened to me when I was younger, sometimes involving death threats and often involving torrents of obscenities: a man approaches a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed.  The fury and desire come in a package, all twisted together into something that always threatens to turn eros into thanatos, love into death, sometimes literally.

It’s a system of control. It’s why so many intimate-partner murders are of women who dared to break up with those partners.  As a result, it imprisons a lot of women, and though you could say that the attacker on January 7th, or a brutal would-be-rapist near my own neighborhood on January 5th, or another rapist here on January 12th, or the San Franciscan who on January 6th set his girlfriend on fire for refusing to do his laundry, or the guy who was just sentenced to 370 years for some particularly violent rapes in San Francisco in late 2011, were marginal characters, rich, famous, and privileged guys do it, too.

The Japanese vice-consul in San Francisco was charged with 12 felony counts of spousal abuse and assault with a deadly weapon last September, the same month that, in the same town, the ex-girlfriend of Mason Mayer (brother of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer) testified in court: "He ripped out my earrings, tore my eyelashes off, while spitting in my face and telling me how unlovable I am… I was on the ground in the fetal position, and when I tried to move, he squeezed both knees tighter into my sides to restrain me and slapped me." According to the newspaper, she also testified that “Mayer slammed her head onto the floor repeatedly and pulled out clumps of her hair, telling her that the only way she was leaving the apartment alive was if he drove her to the Golden Gate Bridge ‘where you can jump off or I will push you off.’" Mason Mayer got probation.   

This summer, an estranged husband violated his wife’s restraining order against him, shooting her -- and six other women -- at her spa job in suburban Milwaukee, but since there were only four corpses the crime was largely overlooked in the media in a year with so many more spectacular mass murders in this country (and we still haven’t really talked about the fact that, of 62 mass shootings in the U.S. in three decades, only one was by a woman, because when you say lone gunman, everyone talks about loners and guns but not about men -- and by the way, nearly two thirds of all women killed by guns are killed by their partner or ex-partner).

What’s love got to do with it, asked Tina Turner, whose ex-husband Ike once said, “Yeah I hit her, but I didn't hit her more than the average guy beats his wife.” A woman is beaten every nine seconds in this country. Just to be clear: not nine minutes, but nine seconds. It’s the number-one cause of injury to American women; of the two million injured annually, more than half a million of those injuries require medical attention while about 145,000 require overnight hospitalizations, according to the Center for Disease Control, and you don’t want to know about the dentistry needed afterwards. Spouses are also the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S.

'Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.' “Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined,” writes Nicholas D. Kristof, one of the few prominent figures to address the issue regularly.  

The Chasm Between Our Worlds

Rape and other acts of violence, up to and including murder, as well as threats of violence, constitute the barrage some men lay down as they attempt to control some women, and fear of that violence limits most women in ways they’ve gotten so used to they hardly notice -- and we hardly address. There are exceptions: last summer someone wrote to me to describe a college class in which the students were asked what they do to stay safe from rape. The young women described the intricate ways they stayed alert, limited their access to the world, took precautions, and essentially thought about rape all the time (while the young men in the class, he added, gaped in astonishment). The chasm between their worlds had briefly and suddenly become visible.

Mostly, however, we don’t talk about it -- though a graphic has been circulating on the Internet called Ten Top Tips to End Rape, the kind of thing young women get often enough, but this one had a subversive twist.  It offered advice like this: “Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone ‘by accident’ you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can call for help.” While funny, the piece points out something terrible: the usual guidelines in such situations put the full burden of prevention on potential victims, treating the violence as a given. You explain to me why colleges spend more time telling women how to survive predators than telling the other half of their students not to be predators.

Threats of sexual assault now seem to take place online regularly. In late 2011, British columnist Laurie Penny wrote, “An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the Internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they'd like to rape, kill, and urinate on you. This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to share their own stories of harassment, intimidation, and abuse.”

Women in the online gaming community have been harassed, threatened, and driven out. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic who documented such incidents, received support for her work, but also, in the words of a journalist, “another wave of really aggressive, you know, violent personal threats, her accounts attempted to be hacked. And one man in Ontario took the step of making an online video game where you could punch Anita's image on the screen. And if you punched it multiple times, bruises and cuts would appear on her image.” The difference between these online gamers and the Taliban men who, last October, tried to murder 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai for speaking out about the right of Pakistani women to education is one of degree. Both are trying to silence and punish women for claiming voice, power, and the right to participate. Welcome to Manistan.

The Party for the Protection of the Rights of Rapists

It’s not just public, or private, or online either.  It’s also embedded in our political system, and our legal system, which before feminists fought for us didn’t recognize most domestic violence, or sexual harassment and stalking, or date rape, or acquaintance rape, or marital rape, and in cases of rape still often tries the victim rather than the rapist, as though only perfect maidens could be assaulted -- or believed.

As we learned in the 2012 election campaign, it’s also embedded in the minds and mouths of our politicians.  Remember that spate of crazy pro-rape things Republican men said last summer and fall, starting with Todd Akin's notorious claim that a woman has ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of rape, a statement he made in order to deny women control over their own bodies. After that, of course, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock claimed that rape pregnancies were “a gift from God,” and just this month, another Republican politician piped up to defend Akin’s comment.

Happily the five publicly pro-rape Republicans in the 2012 campaign all lost their election bids. (Stephen Colbert tried to warn them that women had gotten the vote in 1920.)  But it’s not just a matter of the garbage they say (and the price they now pay).  Earlier this month, congressional Republicans refused to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, because they objected to the protection it gave immigrants, transgendered women, and Native American women.  (Speaking of epidemics, one of three Native American women will be raped, and on the reservations 88% of those rapes are by non-Native men who know tribal governments can’t prosecute them.)

And they’re out to gut reproductive rights -- birth control as well as abortion, as they’ve pretty effectively done in many states over the last dozen years. What’s meant by “reproductive rights,” of course, is the right of women to control their own bodies. Didn’t I mention earlier that violence against women is a control issue?

And though rapes are often investigated lackadaisically -- there is a backlog of about 400,000 untested rape kits in this country-- rapists who impregnate their victims have parental rights in 31 states. Oh, and former vice-presidential candidate and current congressman Paul Ryan (R-Manistan) is reintroducing a bill that would give states the right to ban abortions and might even conceivably allow a rapist to sue his victim for having one.  

All the Things That Aren’t to Blame

Of course, women are capable of all sorts of major unpleasantness, and there are violent crimes by women, but the so-called war of the sexes is extraordinarily lopsided when it comes to actual violence.  Unlike the last (male) head of the International Monetary Fund, the current (female) head is not going to assault an employee at a luxury hotel; top-ranking female officers in the U.S. military, unlike their male counterparts, are not accused of any sexual assaults; and young female athletes, unlike those male football players in Steubenville, aren’t likely to urinate on unconscious boys, let alone violate them and boast about it in YouTube videos and Twitter feeds.  

No female bus riders in India have ganged up to sexually assault a man so badly he dies of his injuries, nor are marauding packs of women terrorizing men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and there’s just no maternal equivalent to the 11% of rapes that are by fathers or stepfathers. Of the people in prison in the U.S., 93.5% are not women, and though quite a lot of them should not be there in the first place, maybe some of them should because of violence, until we think of a better way to deal with it, and them.

No major female pop star has blown the head off a young man she took home with her, as did Phil Spector.  (He is now part of that 93.5% for the shotgun slaying of Lana Clarkson, apparently for refusing his advances.)  No female action-movie star has been charged with domestic violence, because Angelina Jolie just isn’t doing what Mel Gibson and Steve McQueen did, and there aren’t any celebrated female movie directors who gave a 13-year-old drugs before sexually assaulting that child, while she kept saying “no,” as did Roman Polanski.

In Memory of Jyoti Singh Pandey

What’s the matter with manhood? There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed. There are lovely and wonderful men out there, and one of the things that’s encouraging in this round of the war against women is how many men I’ve seen who get it, who think it’s their issue too, who stand up for us and with us in everyday life, online and in the marches from New Delhi to San Francisco this winter.

There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed.

Increasingly men are becoming good allies -- and there always have been some.  Kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy. Domestic violence statistics are down significantly from earlier decades (even though they’re still shockingly high), and a lot of men are at work crafting new ideas and ideals about masculinity and power.

Gay men have been good allies of mine for almost four decades. (Apparently same-sex marriage horrifies conservatives because it’s marriage between equals with no inevitable roles.) Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. But we are free together or slaves together.

There are other things I’d rather write about, but this affects everything else. The lives of half of humanity are still dogged by, drained by, and sometimes ended by this pervasive variety of violence.  Think of how much more time and energy we would have to focus on other things that matter if we weren’t so busy surviving. Look at it this way: one of the best journalists I know is afraid to walk home at night in our neighborhood.  Should she stop working late? How many women have had to stop doing their work, or been stopped from doing it, for similar reasons?

One of the most exciting new political movements on Earth is the Native Canadian indigenous rights movement, with feminist and environmental overtones, called Idle No More. On December 27th, shortly after the movement took off, a Native woman was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and left for dead in Thunder Bay, Ontario, by men whose remarks framed the crime as retaliation against Idle No More. Afterward, she walked four hours through the bitter cold and survived to tell her tale. Her assailants, who have threatened to do it again, are still at large.

The New Delhi rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old who was studying physiotherapy so that she could better herself while helping others, and the assault on her male companion (who survived) seem to have triggered the reaction that we have needed for 100, or 1,000, or 5,000 years. May she be to women -- and men -- worldwide what Emmett Till, murdered by white supremacists in 1955, was to African-Americans and the then-nascent U.S. civil rights movement.

We have far more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident.  We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s everyone’s problem, it’s not isolated, and it’s never going to be acceptable again. It has to change. It’s your job to change it, and mine, and ours.

© 2013 Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit is an activist and the author of many books, including: Wanderlust: A History of Walking, The Battle of The Story of the Battle in Seattle (with her brother David), and Storming The Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics. Her most recent book is, A Paradise Built in Hell, is now available. She is a contributing editor to Harper's Magazine

Military Contracting: Our New Era of Corporate Mercenaries

Private military contracting has ballooned into an industry worth more than $100bn a year. (Photograph: Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)In early 1995, Sierra Leone was on the brink of collapse. A violent civil war had ravaged the country, leaving thousands dead and countless others wounded. The insurgent rebels, infamous for recruiting child soldiers, were just weeks from the beleaguered capital, Freetown, and appeared unassailable.

Several months later, however, the tide had turned: the government's authority was strengthened, rebel forces were repelled, and control over the country's major economic assets was restored. Executive Outcomes, a private military contractor armed with helicopters and state of the art artillery, helped change the course of the war.

Nearly every tool necessary to wage war can now be purchased: combat support, including the ability to conduct large-scale operations and surgical strikes; operational support, like training and intelligence gathering; and general support, like transportation services and paramedical assistance. The demand for these services, in turn, has ballooned: the gross revenue for the private military contractor industry is now in excess of $100bn a year.

The privatization of conflict is no longer a trend. It's the norm.

The United States relied so heavily on contractors during the recent Iraq war that no one knows with certainty how many were on the ground. In late 2010, the United Arab Emirates, fearful that the Arab uprisings might spread to the Gulf, paid Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater Worldwide, $529m to create an elite force to safeguard the emirate. And today, Russia is openly considering forming a cadre of private military contractors to further its interests abroad.

Yet, the laws that govern this industry tell a different story. Instead of a transnational system with meaningful collaboration, we have a patchwork of state laws that allow companies to forum-shop and circumvent regulations. Contractors can likewise relocate, as they typically rent the equipment necessary to complete their contracts; their primary source of capital is human, not physical.

In addition to closing loopholes, states must monitor contractors, and prosecute them when they commit crimes. To this day, not a single contractor has been successfully prosecuted for its role in the Abu Ghraib prison atrocities or the Nisour Square massacre, in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed.

Contractors claim that their services are market- and self-regulated. They contend that wanton violence would stop governments from seeking their assistance. Yet, the theatre of war often obscures their activities.

In its final report to the US Congress, the Commission on Wartime Contracting found that the US government lost more than $30bn to contractor waste and fraud in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, corporations can rename and rebrand, thereby mitigating reputational harm. Consider Blackwater USA, which changed its name to Xe Services LLC, and then to Academi – all in the last four years.

The UN working group on the use of mercenaries has suggested that certain military functions, like combat services and interrogation, not be outsourced to private contractors. Its guidelines should be followed. Outsourcing foreign policy goals undermines democratic oversight because contractor activities, including casualties, typically escape public scrutiny. It can also allow states to evade legislative oversight.

The greatest check against war is the horror of war itself. Yet, as the physical distance between warring states grows, so does the temptation to loosen our moral compass. Violence that lacks immediacy is easier to ignore. Permitting third parties to wage war for profit risks a world in which war is not the last resort but an economic transaction in which the victims are faceless and nameless.

And so, we return to Sierra Leone. Although the intervention by Executive Outcomes is sometimes touted as illustrating the viability of military contractors, history suggests otherwise. The contractor was later accused of interfering in domestic politics to pursue financial gain, and an associated firm received payment through diamond mine concessions, which compromised the country's economic future.

Moreover, violence resumed after Executive Outcomes left Sierra Leone. It became clear that the government had over-relied on the contractor and undercut its own institutions.

The fog of war is hazy enough. We don't need additional, unregulated cloud cover.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Arjun Sethi

Arjun Sethi is a lawyer in Washington, DC, and a frequent commentator on civil rights and social justice-related issues. He has written for the Washington Post, USA Today, and CNN, among other publications

How Britain Enthusiastically Teamed Up with Bush’s Horrific Torture and Rendition Agenda

Britain and the US stood shoulder to shoulder in the war on terror -- even when working the dark side.

January 23, 2013  |  

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Editor's Note: The following is Part II of an excerpt from Ian Cobain's new book,  A Secret History of Torture (Counterpoint Press, 2012). Copyright 2012, Portobello Books. All Rights Reserved. Click here to read Part I.

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Tony Blair took a train from Brighton to London, where he issued a statement that pledged unswerving support for the US. He described terrorism as "the new evil in our world," perpetrated by people with no regard for the sanctity of human life. There was now to be a battle between the free world and terrorism, he said. "We therefore here in Britain stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends in this hour of tragedy and we, like them, will not rest until this evil is driven from our world."

Quietly, Britain pledged logistics support for the rendition program, which resulted in the CIA’s Gulfstream V and other jets becoming frequent visitors to British airports en route to the agency’s secret prisons. Over the next four years, a 26-strong flight of rendition aircraft operated by the CIA used UK airports at least 210 times. Dozens of other private executive jets that the agency chartered were also regular visitors to the UK. Nineteen British airports and RAF bases were used, including Heathrow, Birmingham, Luton, Bournemouth and Belfast. The agency’s favorite destination was Prestwick in Scotland, which it used more than 75 times. One CIA pilot described Prestwick as an ideal refueling stop. "It’s an 'ask no questions' type of place, and you don’t need to give them any advance notice you’re coming."

The US authorities also asked the UK government for permission to build a large prison on Diego Garcia, the British territory in the Indian Ocean that operates as a US military base. A Royal Marines officer made some preliminary plans, before the project was dropped, for logistical rather than legal reasons. Diego Garcia continued to be used as a stopover for rendition flights, however, and senior United Nations officials believe that a number of prisoners were held and interrogated there between 2002 and 2003.

The UK would do more than offer mere logistics support to the rendition program, however. It would "perform," in Bush’s words, by becoming an enthusiastic participant in the rendition and torture program. As in the summer of 1940, its first victims would be British. But as then and since, Britain would enshroud its use of torture in the greatest possible secrecy.

In October 2001, when the United States and its allies went to war in Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime that had harbored al-Qaida, it was inevitable that a small number of those captured on the battlefield would be British.

For more than a decade, MI5 had been aware that British Muslims had been traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan to receive training at camps run by al-Qaida or associated groups. Pakistan’s main intelligence agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, operated some of the camps, and graduates were encouraged to take up arms against Indian forces in Kashmir. Before al-Qaida began targeting the West in the late 1990s, MI5 saw these trips as evidence of little more than exuberant adventurism among a small section of young British Muslim males: a form of jihadi tourism that posed no threat to the UK. All that changed after 9/11, when both MI5 and MI6 became anxious to extract as much information as possible from any British prisoners in order to assess the al-Qaida threat.

It was not long before prisoners were being taken during battles in the north and southeast of Afghanistan. Many more foreign fighters were captured while attempting to slip across the border into Pakistan. Hundreds were handed over to US forces by Afghan and Pakistani bounty hunters, who received large bundles of dollars for every non-Afghan they captured.

If I Were Attorney General

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Bio

Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include "Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America," and “ Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.” NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week's edition of The Ratner Report with Michael Ratner, who now joins us from New York City.

Michael is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. He's chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He's a board member of The Real News. Thanks for joining us again, Michael.MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Good to be with you, Paul.JAY: So I'm—let's kick this one off with a question. So President Obama gets inaugurated, and all of a sudden he has this brilliant flash: oh, no, I need Michael Ratner as attorney general. Now, that's as likely to happen as—well, okay, I'm not going to crack any joke, but let's say it happened. What would you do as attorney general?RATNER: Well, you know, it's an interesting question. And I was asked the question by a progressive newspaper called The Indepedent as well, along similar lines. And, of course, you could decide, you could have a different government, a socialist government. But, of course, that's not going to be decided by the attorney general. So what does the attorney general do? Attorney general heads the Department of Justice. In, like, 200 and some years there's been one woman heading the Department of Justice. So you have to assume it's probably going to be a man this time, which is going to be me. And I came up with some ideas, perhaps eight, nine, ten ideas of what I could actually do. So the first one is a nice—for all of us activists out there, 'cause you get social change through activism. And what I said was, handcuff the FBI, not activists. So the first thing that they could do is get the FBI off the backs of political activists, Muslim activists, people who are out in the streets, Occupy Wall Street people, and just get rid of government, political FBI spying, put handcuffs on the FBI, not on all of us, because that's how social change is made.And right now we're in a situation where Obama and the FBI are still operating under the FBI guidelines that were suggested by President Bush's last attorney general, Mukasey. And they're terrible, because they allow spying and surveillance and wiretapping on people who they have never been even accused or even implicated in a crime without reasonable doubt. They can spy on anybody.So number one, handcuff the FBI and not activists.Number two—and this is the power of attorney general. Even if there's laws on the books saying it's illegal for me to smoke marijuana or take cocaine, the attorney general doesn't have to enforce those federal laws. And so the second thing I would do as attorney general, I would just stop all drug prosecutions. That's not the same as passing laws that says they're legal. But as attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer, stop all drug prosecutions. Already you're going to see our jails getting empty, less people going, huge budget cuts that will make a big difference in, of course, people's personal lives.The third is: what do we do about jails, and what can I do as attorney general? Well, I could ask that every single juvenile, every single person convicted as a juvenile in prison, under 18 years old, should be immediately paroled. They had no place in prison to begin with. They should have been treated. They should have been rehabilitated. Get rid of that right away.Then I would ask that all the political prisoners be released—Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, etc., anybody—. Mumia, I wouldn't have the authority. He's in a state prison. But all the federal prisoners, such as the Indian activist Leonard Peltier. Get them out. And then, out of federal prisons, ask for parole of anybody who's served over 20 years. Europe really has a maximum of 20 years. Let's get rid of those. They're just being in there for punitive reasons.So I have FBI, drugs, prisons. Then I would end the prosecution of any undocumented workers in the United States. No longer would we use a criminal system, such as operation streamline to jail tens and tens of thousands of people. End the prosecution of undocumented.Fifth, I would stop the prosecution of my own client, Julian Assange, the investigation of him as well as WikiLeaks. I would have stopped the prosecution of Aaron Swartz, the young internet activist who committed suicide really in part as a result, if not even in big part, as a result of the government's persecution of Aaron Swartz, the internet activist. I would stop the prosecution of Bradley Manning. I would stop the one of Jeremy Hammond. Those are two people who allegedly uploaded documents to WikiLeaks. So I would just stop with prosecuting whistleblowers, just get rid of that, because they're exposing secrets that we really have to know. That's the sixth thing.The seventh thing—and this is a hard one to get into for the attorney general, because you think, how do I make this country more equal from an economic point of view. So I've thought long and hard about that. I can't change the tax code. But what could I do? I could decide that anyone making under a certain amount will not be prosecuted if they don't pay taxes.So let's set the figure at, let's say, $40,000. Anyone making under $40,000, if they decide not to pay taxes, I will not prosecute them as the Department of Justice, nor will I use civil jurisdiction or civil courts to try and collect those taxes. That would automatically raise the salary levels, raise the levels of income of, you know, probably the majority of the United States. That's the sixth thing.The seventh thing. I don't want to let the bad guys off the hook here. I have two sets of bad guys. The first thing I would do is begin an investigation and hope to get an indictment of President Obama for operating the drone strikes throughout the world. I would particularly go after them for the killing of al-Aulaqi in Yemen or al-Aulaqi's son in Yemen, a 16-year-old boy, and for another U.S. citizen in Yemen. There's a U.S. law—and a federal judge actually just cited it in a recent decision on drones. It says the president is not exempt from a law that prohibits people from killing Americans overseas. So I'd begin an investigation of President Obama because he has killed American citizens with drones.JAY: Now, not only will you never get appointed, but if in the wildest chance you did, you wouldn't hold the job for very long. Go on.RATNER: Well, once I get him indicted, you know, he can't get rid of me. Anyway, anything I would do is I would go after, obviously, the Bush–Cheney torture kill teams—implemented not only indefinite detention at Guantanamo and Bagram, but who actually tortured people all over the world—Guantanamo, Bagram—who rendered people to torture, and I would investigate and prosecute those people. That seems like a no-brainer. It should have been a no-brainer to Obama. It should have been a no-brainer to Eric Holder, the current person who I'm replacing. But apparently even that has been difficult.JAY: Now, you're talking Bush–Cheney themselves?RATNER: Yes, of course. Bush and Cheney have both admitted that they ordered waterboarding, a form of torture, and they would do it again. That's—you don't need much more. They've openly admitted to ordering people to be tortured. And we know that people have been tortured as a result. Materials were released. Various people at black sites, one person 83 times waterboarded, another person well over 100. Torture's completely illegal. We have an obligation to prosecute torturers under the Convention Against Torture. It hasn't been done by Obama. I as attorney general would actually—of the ones I mentioned, I think a number of them are actually realistic. That one certainly should be carried out.Then, you know, how else do we get at the financial crisis? I gave us one way [unintel.] stop people having to pay taxes. I just won't prosecute them. The other way, and what I made up for this, is: too big to fail, too big not to be in jail. So rather than just give all of these big banks civil penalties, or these investment houses, even if they're $10 billion or $5 billion or $500 million, let's actually have investigations where we jail the crooked bankers, jail the crooked investment houses, because that's the way, at least, we can avert not crisis—'cause we're going to have crisis in capitalism for a long time, economic crisis, but maybe we can take some of the really deep edge off the next economic crisis by trying to get our banks, our mortgage fraud people, etc., to operate in a better way. That's number nine. Number ten. This was an interesting one. This was actually suggested by my daughter, modeled after a law in Bolivia called the Rights of Mother Earth, Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra. And what it does is rather than just talk about rights for human beings, talks about rights for the ecosystem and the cultural system that you're in, so that when you do something, you have to not just think about what's going to happen, you know, to me or when you build a dam, but what's going to happen to the whole ecosystem. Bolivia has such a law. And as attorney general, of course, I can't pass that law, but at least I could try and put that law forward. So these are ten real positions that the next attorney general could take. And were I the attorney general, despite the political pushback I could get, these are things that I would actually like to carry out. And while they wouldn't be revolutionary in the sense of overturning this society, what they represent to me are transitional actions, transitional demands and actions that ultimately can lead to a much more equal society.JAY: Well, that's great. I mean, I think if this was an elected position, you could probably get elected to this. Unfortunately, it's not.RATNER: I love you, Paul.JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Michael.RATNER: Thank you, Paul.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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Mali: The Fastest Blowback Yet in This Disastrous War on Terror

To listen to David Cameron's rhetoric this week, it could be 2001 all over again. Eleven years into the war on terror, it might have been Tony Blair speaking after 9/11. As the bloody siege of the part BP-operated In Amenas gas plant in Algeria came to an end, the British prime minister claimed, like George Bush and Blair before him, that the country faced an "existential" and "global threat" to "our interests and way of life".Diabaly, 21 January 2013. ‘France is the last country to sort out Mali's problems, having created quite a few of them in the first place.' (Photograph: Arnaud Roin/ECPAD/EPA)

While British RAF aircraft backed French military intervention against Islamist rebels in Mali, and troops were reported to be on alert for deployment to the west African state, Cameron promised that a "generational struggle" would be pursued with "iron resolve". The fight over the new front in the terror war in North Africa and the Sahel region, he warned, could go on for decades.

So in austerity-blighted Britain, just as thousands of soldiers are being made redundant, while Barack Obama has declared that "a decade of war is now ending", armed intervention is being ratcheted up in yet another part of the Muslim world. Of course, it's French troops in action this time. But even in Britain the talk is of escalating drone attacks and special forces, and Cameron has refused to rule out troops on the ground.

You'd think the war on terror had been a huge success, the way the western powers keep at it, Groundhog Day-style. In reality, it has been a disastrous failure, even in its own terms – which is why the Obama administration felt it had to change its name to "overseas contingency operations", until US defence secretary Leon Panetta revived the old title this week.

Instead of fighting terror, it has fuelled it everywhere it's been unleashed: from Afghanistan to Pakistan, from Iraq to Yemen, spreading it from Osama bin Laden's Afghan lairs eastwards to central Asia and westwards to North Africa – as US, British and other western forces have invaded, bombed, tortured and kidnapped their way across the Arab and Muslim world for over a decade.

So a violent jihadist movement that grew out of western intervention, occupation and support for dictatorship was countered with more of the same. And the law of unintended consequences has meanwhile been played out in spectacular fashion: from the original incubation of al-Qaida in the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union, to the spread of terror from western-occupied Afghanistan to Pakistan, to the strategic boost to Iran delivered by the US-British invasion of Iraq.

When it came to Libya, the blowback was much faster – and Mali took the impact. Nato's intervention in Libya's civil war nearly two years ago escalated the killing and ethnic cleansing, and played the decisive role in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime. In the ensuing maelstrom, Tuareg people who had fought for Gaddafi went home to Mali and weapons caches flooded over the border.

Within a couple of months this had tipped longstanding demands for self-determination into armed rebellion – and then the takeover of northern Mali by Islamist fighters, some linked to al-Qaida. Foreign secretary William Hague acknowledged this week that Nato's Libyan intervention had "contributed" to Mali's war, but claimed the problem would have been worse without it.

In fact, the spillover might have been contained if the western powers had supported a negotiated settlement in Libya, just as all-out war in Mali might have been avoided if the Malian government's French and US sponsors had backed a political instead of a military solution to the country's divisions.

The past decade has demonstrated beyond doubt that such interventions don't solve crises, let alone deal with the causes of terrorism, but deepen them and generate new conflicts.

French intervention in Mali has now produced the fastest blowback yet in the war on terror. The groups that seized the In Imenas gas plant last week – reportedly with weapons supplied to Libya by France and Britain – insisted their action was taken in response to France's operation, Algeria's decision to open its airspace to the French and western looting of the country's natural resources.

It may well be that the attack had in fact been planned for months. And the Algerian government has its own history of bloody conflict with Islamist movements. But it clearly can't be separated from the growing western involvement across the region.

France is in any case the last country to sort out Mali's problems, having created quite a few of them in the first place as the former colonial power, including the legacy of ethnic schism within artificial borders – as Britain did elsewhere. The French may have been invited in by the Malian government. But it's a government brought to power by military coup last year, not one elected by Malians – and whose troops are now trading atrocities and human rights abuses with the rebels.

Only a political settlement, guaranteed by regional African forces, can end the conflict. Meanwhile, French president François Hollande says his country will be in Mali as long as it takes to "defeat terrorism in that part of Africa". All the experience of the past decade suggests that could be indefinitely – as western intervention is likely to boost jihadist recruitment and turn groups with a regional focus towards western targets.

All this is anyway about a good deal more than terrorism. Underlying the growing western military involvement in Africa – from the spread of American bases under the US Africa Command to France's resumption of its post-colonial habit of routine armed intervention – is a struggle for resources and strategic control, in the face of China's expanding economic role in the continent. In north and west Africa, that's not just about oil and gas, but also uranium in countries like Niger – and Mali. Terrorism has long since become a catch-all cover for legitimising aggressive war.

The idea that jihadists in Mali, or Somalia for that matter, pose an existential threat to Britain, France, the US or the wider world is utter nonsense. But the opening of a new front in the war on terror in north Africa and the Sahel, accompanied by another murderous drone campaign, is a potential disaster for the region and risks a new blowback beyond it.

The past decade has demonstrated beyond doubt that such interventions don't solve crises, let alone deal with the causes of terrorism, but deepen them and generate new conflicts. More military intervention will bolster authoritarian regimes – and its rhetoric further poison community relations in the intervening states. It seems the price has to be paid over and over again.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Seumas Milne

Seumas Milne is a Guardian columnist and associate editor. His most recent book is The Revenge of History: The Battle for the 21st Century. His previous books include, The Enemy Within and Beyond the Casino Economy (co-authored with Nicholas Costello). He tweets @SeumasMilne

Gates and Tutu back hunger campaign

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu have thrown their weight behind a new campaign aiming to combat malnutrition and hunger in the developing world.

One hundred development and faith British charities have united behind the Enough Food For Everyone IF coalition, urging Prime Minister David Cameron to use the UK's G8 presidency in 2013 to tackle the causes of hunger in the developing world.

The campaign, being billed as the largest coalition of its kind in the UK since Make Poverty History in 2005, warns that the "scandal" of children growing up hungry will trap almost a billion young people in poverty by 2025 and cost the developed world £78 billion over the next 15 years.

Mr Tutu, the former Archbishop of Cape Town and a long-serving human rights campaigner, said: "Hunger is not an incurable disease or an unavoidable tragedy. We can make sure no child goes to bed hungry.

"We can stop mothers from starving themselves to feed their families. We can save lives.

"We can do all of this, if we are prepared to do something about it. If we challenge our leaders to take action. If they listen to us.

"It's time the world's decision-makers came to the right decision on hunger.

"It's time to end the unnecessary suffering caused by the failure of the current food system. We can make hunger a thing of the past if we act now."

Billionaire Mr Gates is also well-known for his philanthropic work through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, most notably in combating malaria.

The IF campaign will be formally launched at Somerset House in London, at an event expected to feature celebrities including actors Bill Nighy, Keeley Hawes and Bonnie Wright, Senegalese musician Baaba Maal, former athletes Denise Lewis and Colin Jackson, and ex-England rugby captain Matt Dawson. Other events will take place across the UK.

Bali: Death Penalty For British Drug Smuggler

British woman Lindsay Sandiford has been sentenced to death for drug smuggling on the Indonesian island of Bali.

The 56-year-old grandmother, originally from Redcar, Teesside, had been found guilty of violating the country's strict drug laws.

Sandiford was arrested in May 2012 at Bali airport when customs officers found 3.8kg of cocaine worth £1.6m in her luggage. She claimed she had been forced to smuggle the drugs into Bali from Thailand by a criminal gang.

Prosecutors announced in December that they would be recommending a 15-year prison sentence, after she agreed to co-operate in a sting operation in which police swooped on four other suspects, including British nationals Rachel Dougall, Julian Ponder and Paul Beales. 

Delivering their verdict, a judge panel headed by Amser Simanjuntak said that Sandiford had damaged the image of Bali as a tourism destination and weakened the government's programme of drug annihilation.

"We find Lindsay Sandiford convincingly and legally guilty of importing narcotics," said Simanjuntak.

In her witness statement, Sandiford said: "I would like to begin by apologising to the Republic of Indonesia and the Indonesian people for my involvement.

"I would never have become involved in something like this but the lives of my children were in danger and I felt I had to protect them."

Local journalist Amelia Rose was in court when the Sandiford was sentenced.

"She was in shock, but she managed to hold her composure and stand up while the judge read out her sentence," she said.

"Her eyes turned red from tears for a second but she managed to hold her composure again.

"There is still a long way to go before an execution can take place. She can appeal to the High Court then the Supreme Court in Jakarta. If she can present new evidence she can have a judicial review.

"Then there is also the chance of clemency with the President".

A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: "We can confirm that a British national is facing the death penalty in Indonesia.

"We remain in close contact with that national and continue to provide consular assistance.

"The UK remains strongly opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances."

Dougall, whose young daughter is reportedly being cared for by their maid and gardener on the island, has claimed she was the victim of a "fit-up".

Reprieve, a charity which seeks to enforce human rights for prisoners, said Sandiford was targeted by drug traffickers.

Spokeswoman Harriet McCulloch said: "Lindsay was targeted by drug traffickers who exploited her vulnerability and made threats against her children.

"Following her arrest, she was interrogated by the Indonesian police without a translator, legal representation or the assistance of the British Embassy for 10 days.

A statement by Dr Jennifer Fleetwood, an expert on the coercion of women in the international drug trade, was also read out, which suggested that Sandiford's "vulnerability" would have made her an ideal target for drugs traffickers. 

"There is evidence to suggest that a trafficker would seek someone who was vulnerable. Having reviewed extracts from Lindsay's medical records I know that Lindsay has a history of mental health issues.

"This may have unfortunately made her an attractive target for threats, manipulation and coercion by one or more parties over a period of time, which led to her being stopped at Ngurah Rai International Airport".

More follows...

French troops take central Mali towns, rebels slip away

DIABALY, Mali (Reuters) - French and Malian armoured columns rolled into the towns of Diabaly and Douentza in central Mali on Monday after the al Qaeda-linked rebels who had seized them fled into the bush to avoid air strikes. France said the advance ...

‘Pedal to the Metal’: Obama’s Drone Program Escalates as Second Term Begins

Three US drone attacks in Yemen in as many days—which have left as many as fifteen people dead— gives further proof that the CIA, according to recent comments made to the Washington Post by a former government official familiar with Obama's assassination program, has "put the pedal to the metal" when it comes to administering the controversial tactic.

And, as Obama was sworn in to his second term in Washington Monday, critics of the 'kill list' took the opportunity to once again warn against the insidious consequences of his ongoing program.

On Saturday, two separate attacks saw US missiles destroy a house and its occupants in the province of al-Bayda and later a car and those it carried was targeted in the city of Maarib.

In the early hours Monday, reports say a vehicle carrying perhaps five men was fired on by a US drone in an area northeast of the nation's capital city of Sanaa.

These latest strikes in Yemen continue a noted escalation of US attacks that began near the end of 2012.

As Agence France-Presse reports, "Monday's raid brings to at least 25 the number of people killed in US drone strikes since such assaults were intensified on December 24."

As experts and human rights organizations continue to warn the Obama administration that such attacks are counterproductive—increasing, not lessening, al Qaeda's position in Yemen or elsewhere—the Washington Post's weekend report that the White House was "institutionalizing" the practice of assassination by drone with a new "playbook" was met with deep criticism.

According to Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s National Security Project, the 'playbook'—which seeks to codify some of the administrative procedures that will guide the program going forward— is “a step in exactly the wrong direction, a further bureaucratization of the CIA’s paramilitary killing program.”

On the day of his inauguration, as crowds lined the National Mall in Washington to see Obama sworn in for a second term, Glenn Greenwald observed the deep irony of the president being sworn in on the same day that the country celebrates the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who spoke out eloquently and forcefully against the kind of militarism that Obama—with much of the nation cheering along—has now so fully embraced.

Greenwald writes:

Arguing that "we must drone-bomb people in order to stop terrorism" is the equivalent of arguing that "we must continue to smoke cigarettes in order to stop lung cancer". As ample evidence proves, the so-called "solution" to Terrorism - endless violence and killing - is actually its primary cause. As the Yemeni blogger Noon Arabia put it this weekend after a series of multiple drones strikes on her country: "For those arguing effectiveness of drones, let me explain: civilians killed => animosity towards US = Qaeda members increase = Vicious [circle]!"

_____________________________

MLK’s Vehement Condemnations of US Militarism are More Relevant Than Ever

Martin Luther King at Washington DC's Lincoln Memorial in 1968. Barack Obama used the day before his inauguration to honour the spirit of King. (Photograph: Francis Miller/Getty)The civil right achievements of Martin Luther King are quite justly the f...

French Intervention in Mali Violates UN Resolution; Root of Crisis Marginalization of the North

Context: As yet there are no context links for this item.

Bio

Emira Woods is a co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Ms. Woods is chair of the Board of Africa Action and serves on the Board of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars. She is also a member of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative Africa Council.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

France is sending more forces to Mali as the anticolonial forces (as many of them describe themselves) are pushing further south. The forces are made up of the Tuareg people and various extremists, some people say. Others call them militant Islamists or Jihadists. But one way or another, there are many outside forces either intervening in Mali or poised to do so.Now joining us to talk about how we got here is Emira Woods. She's codirector of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Ms. Woods is chair of the board of Africa Action and serves on the board of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars. She's also a member of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, Africa Council. And between 1992 and '99 she worked for Oxfam, where she traveled around Africa extensively and spent a lot of time in Mali. Thanks for joining us.EMIRA WOODS, CODIRECTOR, FOREIGN POLICY IN FOCUS, IPS: A pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me.JAY: So give us a little bit of context, first of all. I know you can't do the whole history of Mali in two minutes. But as quickly as you can, how did we get here?WOODS: Well, the history for me begins centuries back. So the quick version is, you know, Mali has been the center of Islamic thought, of learning. It was the site of one of the oldest universities, Timbuktu, one of the oldest libraries in the world. You know, these centers of learning predated Harvard and Cambridge and Oxford. You know, Mali has been at the center not only of African life, but really of the world, in many ways, for centuries. I think we have to understand, though, that Mali is—what's happening in Mali is the direct result of an international intervention in Libya. The ousting of Muammar Gaddafi essentially unleashed these unintended consequences, where you had weapons flowing from Libya, weapons that—some of which were part of Gaddafi's caches. Others were weapons brought by NATO and the NATO forces. But these weapons flowed from Libya across boarders, from Algeria into Mali, creating a real crisis situation, where longtime challenges in terms of the political process, the internal political process in Mali, where the northern part of the country, from the days of colonialism, the northern part was seen as marginalized economically, not enough development, marginalized politically, without sufficient political access. The north had been clamoring for greater rights, greater sovereignty, really, for decades, since the '60s, or some say since the turn of the 20th century. So I think in the midst of this ongoing conflict for self-determination and greater rights of the north, you enter these weapons, the heavy flow of weapons from Libya. And it's just been a recipe for disaster.So what happened? March 2012, you had a coup, essentially, launched by a U.S.-trained military officer, you know, Sanogo, who had come to the U.S. reportedly seven times in the last eight years, essentially launching a military coup one month before the elections in Mali, supposedly because there was a sense that the Malian government was not handling well the crisis in the north with this inflow of weapons coming forward. So the army launched a coup, and launched then a series of coups and countercoups that have gone on, really, since March, as recent as this past December. So what you have is a political crisis in Mali that's now exacerbated by this heavy flow of weapons into the region.JAY: Is there any suggestion that this coup, there was some American interest to have this coup? 'Cause I thought the president that was overthrown by the coup was very friendly to the United States.WOODS: Well, yes, the president did have relations, friendly relations with the U.S. But also you have a military that's been armed and trained by the U.S. now for quite some time. And so that military takes the weapons and the training from U.S. taxpayer dollars and decides that they can do it better, and essentially skirts the democratic process and takes over power. So I think you have a political crisis that has now been exacerbated by a deteriorating security crisis in the north because of the massive inflow of weapons.And so enter this situation now the French essentially deciding that the UN, which passed a Security Council resolution, you know, 20-85 back in December authorizing an African-led military intervention, coupled with political intervention to get at the root causes of the crisis—but the French essentially decided that the UN process, the UN sanction process was not happening in a fast enough clip and that they could take more direct action more quickly. So the French back a week ago or so, back on Friday, launched a military intervention, airstrikes in Northern Mali, and that has been followed by ground forces there from the French moving steadily throughout Northern Mali.I think what we have to recognize is that, you know, often military intervention breeds greater challenges, unintended consequences. And so what we have created now is a situation where, you know, all the challenges internal to Mali have been exacerbated by people, extremists, coming—many foreign fighters coming from other countries into Mali to unseat the French, to offset Western colonial powers, and to assert their own image of what Mali should look like for the future. I think it is not only dangerous for Mali, but also for the neighboring countries, countries like Algeria that has now seen hostages taken at oil installations because of this, now, desire to combat the French and to stop the interventionists from the West.JAY: Now, France has essentially violated the UN resolution, right? The UN resolution was quite specific: this needed to be an African force led by Africans. And that's not what's happening.WOODS: Well, this is the thing. France essentially went to the UN to try to brief the UN, but there has been no new Security Council resolution. So what stands is the resolution passed, which calls for an Africa-led force. I think it is really important to underscore that the regional body the Economic Community of West African States echo us, as well as the African Union, have been calling for a comprehensive package. Let's not look to the military solution as the answer here. What will be needed for long-term peace and stability in Mali is a comprehensive package that pays attention to the underlying political crisis that created the situation that has unfolded in Mali. But we also have a humanitarian crisis. Over 200,000 people have been forced out of their homes because of the conflicts in the northern part of Mali. And in addition to that, you have reports that just since Friday, in less than a week, 30,000 more people have been forced out of their homes, out of their communities. So you have a real humanitarian crisis that also needs attention from the international community.So the regional bodies were essentially calling for a comprehensive package, and yet the focus of the international—particularly the French action now, is on sort of this military intervention.JAY: Now, France is saying that the government of Mali is—be it what it is, asked them to come in. I mean, is that what we understand?WOODS: Well, this is what France has said. I think we have to understand that this is a government that came to power by a coup, and, you know, the U.S. in particular has said explicitly that they cannot support particularly the government in Mali officially, because it is a government that came to power by coup.So I think we have to question, really, the legitimacy of the government and understand that a government that comes to power through a coup that has—and led a series of coups and countercoups and ousted a civilian prime minister just as recent as December, that government is really lacking credibility in quite a number of ways. And so whether or not they have the credibility to call in the French, I think, is still up for discussion.JAY: Okay. So the other argument we're hearing from France and in the mass media is that the troops from the north, the insurgents from the north, were heading south and, you know, getting towards the capital, and that there was a lot of foreigners there, including French citizens and others, and that if the French didn't move in quickly, you know, people's lives would be in jeopardy, and that the African countries that were supposed to be putting together this force hadn't acted quickly enough. What do you make of all of that?WOODS: Well, I think, you know, there is always justification to push the military option as the first response, as opposed to a last resort. And I think what you have here is really a French justification for their actions. I think it is important to underscore that military actions will not bring resolution to the crisis in Mali.I think there needs to be comprehensive efforts to address the root cause of this crisis, which is the marginalization of the North, people of the North feeling completely isolated politically and economically. I think we have to underscore that, you know, this is a region that is rich in gold, in oil, with oil exploration very actively underway throughout the region. It is also a region where land has been expropriated in what many call land grabs, you know, with land being taken by international investors for biofuels production.So there are many underlying issues that have to be addressed to be able to get at the root causes of this conflict. And the military intervention, instead of addressing these multiple layers of challenges, the military intervention is actually going to exacerbate tensions, creating, really, a space where extremists from many different countries now, not only from Mali but from throughout the region, and even outside the region, are now anxious to get to Mali, to pick up arms to fight the colonial power, to fight the French. [snip] to continue to see the situation deteriorate because of this action.JAY: Some people might call the French extremist. But there's a question I have is: why is France willing or interested to do this? Where does this interest lie? I mean, there's every reason to think that this is going to be a quagmire for them.WOODS: Without a doubt. And I think, you know, many are really surprised to see a socialist government in France taking this action. You know? And there was a hope that the change in leadership in France would bring a different foreign policy. But unfortunately, you know, there is still this push towards foreign policy that's set by more short-term, very narrowly defined strategic, quote-unquote, interests without looking at the longer-term relationships that need to develop to build a mutually beneficial set of policies that not only will benefit Mali and Africa but will bring benefit to the global economy [crosstalk]JAY: Do you think this has to do with French interest in Libya? I mean, France led the charge to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya. There was a big conflict over oil issues. And especially we've done quite a few stories about the conflict or contradiction between the French and the Russians over who was going to control, through Gazprom versus Total and the Italian company Eni. I mean, are they worried that this Northern Mali, if it doesn't get checked by the French, becomes a kind of base that they're going to wind up having to deal with in Libya?WOODS: Well, I think we cannot underestimate the role of oil and other vital natural resources. I think it is important to recognize that these are resource-rich countries, and so it isn't by chance that, you know, there's militarism, oil and militarism, whether it's Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya, Algeria, or Mali, you know, that has this now very rich potential in exploration already underway in terms of its oil. You know. So I think the economic interests of countries, whether it's France or the United States, particularly interests that are often directed, dictated by big oil companies, I think we cannot underestimate the role of those types of considerations in determining foreign policy.I think clearly there is this notion of responsibility to protect that was invoked both in Libya and, you know, is also being invoked—to a lesser extent, but also being invoked in Mali, this notion of protecting civilians. But I think what we have to understand is that when there is aerial bombardment, it is often civilians that are paying the heaviest price [crosstalk]JAY: But what do you say to the people of the South who do not want to be ruled by the people of the North, and if the army in the South is in such disarray, it may not be able to prevent that without some kind of intervention or support?WOODS: I think we have to—you know, we cannot underestimate the power of political negotiations for longer-lasting peace. And in this instance in Mali what we have seen is that the political process, the negotiations process, has actually brought results. The Tuaregs who initially started with their quest for a separate homeland, a separate state, you know, that would bring all the Tuaregs together from all the neighboring countries, that demand has been dropped largely because of political negotiations where traditional leaders, faith-based leaders, peace activists, are actively trying to bring about a negotiated settlement to the crisis.And so I think we have to continue to amplify the actions of those that are the true warriors for peace, those that are fighting for a political process that will address the root causes of the conflict and will bring longer-term stability. I think we have to recognize what gains have been made through those processes and continue to demand that those processes be a part of a comprehensive approach by the international community, as well as by the regional actors.JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Emira.WOODS: It's a pleasure. Thank you.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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Barack Obama versus Martin Luther King Jr.

obamadoublespeak (2)

The Greatest Way to Dishonor Martin Luther King Jr.

What’s the greatest way to dishonor Martin Luther King Jr.? Compare him with US President Barack Obama – a servant of an engine for the greatest disparity, inequality, and injustice on Earth – driven by the very corporate-financier interests King stood up against, was opposed by throughout his entire life, and most likely was killed by. For Martin Luther King Jr. – whose famous speeches still echo through the halls of time, who spoke a message of peace and of the importance of character over the mere color of one’s skin – he is ironically compared to Barack Obama simply because of the color of their skin, despite the fact that these two men possess the opposite in character, and represent infinitely opposing causes.

Image: A visual representation of the corporate-financier special interests represented by US President Barack Obama’s cabinet, past and present. 

….

Indeed, despite the left-leaning facade President Obama displays publicly, his entire cabinet, past and present, is a collection of corporate-financier special interests, warmongers, criminals, and elitists who merely couch a corporate-fascist, self-serving agenda behind well-meaning liberal-esque causes. A look at these characters more closely reveals just this:

Timothy Geithner (Secretary of the Treasury): Group of 30, Council on Foreign Relations, private Federal Reserve
Eric Holder (Attorney General): Covington & Burling lobbying for Merck and representing Chiquita International Brands in lawsuits brought by relatives of people killed by Colombian terrorists.
Eric Shinseki (Secretary of Veteran Affairs): US Army, Council on Foreign Relations, Honeywell director (military contractor), Ducommun director (military contractor).
Rahm Emanuel (former Chief of Staff): Freddie Mac
William Daley (former Chief of Staff): JP Morgan executive committee member
Jacob “Jack” Lew (Chief of Staff) Council on Foreign Relations, Brookings Institution (Hamilton Project)
Susan Rice (UN Ambassador): McKinsey and Company, Brookings Institution, Council on Foreign Relations
Peter Orszag, (former Budget Director): Citi Group, Council on Foreign Relations
Paul Volcker: Council on Foreign Relations, private Federal Reserve, Group of 30
Ronald Kirk (US Trade Representative): lobbyist, part of Goldman Sachs, Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts, and Texas Pacific Group partnership to buyout Energy Future Holdings.
Lawrence Summers (National Economic Council Director): World Bank, Council on Foreign Relations

Image: Brookings Institution’s corporate backers – clearly nothing to do with left-leaning liberal a

….

Of course, representation of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution (page 19, .pdf) should give any genuine left-leaning liberal pause for thought. These are think-tanks created by and for big business. The Brookings Institution in particular is home of the very architects of “George Bush’s” myriad of wars – wars the faux-left in America claim Obama only grudgingly has been stuck with.

In reality, his policy is driven by not only the exact same corporate-financier interests that drove Bush’s, but in fact, many of the exact same individuals are writing the policy versus nations like Libya, Syria, and Iran today who were behind “Bush’s” Iraq and Afghanistan wars – the consequences of which still are reverberating. This is what is called, “continuity of agenda,” with the feigned political proclivities of both Bush and Obama being nothing more than carefully orchestrated theater to divide and distract the public as a singular agenda transcends presidencies and perceived political lines.

And in reality, Martin Luther King Jr., should he still walk this world today, would undoubtedly be taking the podium and speaking out against this outrageous conspiracy against free humanity, and the affront to equality poseurs like President Barack Obama are attempting to foist upon the public and the world at large. He would undoubtedly condemn the global war Obama is waging from Mali to Libya, from Syria to Afghanistan and the borders of Pakistan, from Yemen to Somalia, to Uganda and beyond.

In a speech given on April 4, 1967 in New York City titled, “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence,” King gives what is perhaps the widest encapsulation of his philosophy and worldview, one that would undoubtedly criticize and clash with the disingenuous US presidents of today, celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And the beauty of the equality King helped usher in is, the fact that Obama is black should not shield him from the criticism of the very man that helped pave the way for his accession to office.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/KlM87dwYPjg” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

One section of King’s enlightening speech criticizing the Vietnam War states:

“It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.”

It is safe to say that America has not mended its ways and only traveled further down the dark path King warned us of back in 1967. The man “leading” us, or at least the front-man for the corporate-financier interests that drive America’s destiny, may honor King with carefully contrived words and well orchestrated public stunts, but in deeds and actions Obama and the corporate-financier elite that hold his leash, defame and dishonor King in every way imaginable.

If you want to honor King and his life’s work, honor it by implementing the words he uttered while alive, not by playing along with a system that resisted him until his death, and has since dishonored and exploited his memory with disingenuous praise while maliciously carrying out an agenda contra to everything King ever stood for.

You can read and listen to the whole April 4, 1967 speech, “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence” on AmericanRhetoric.com.

MLK Injustice Index 2013: Racism, Materialism and Militarism in the US

“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values…when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967

While the US celebrates the re-election of its first African American President and the successes of numerous African Americans in all walks of life, there remain troubling challenges.

While remembering how far this nation has come since Dr. King was alive, we cannot forget how far we have still to go to combat the oppressions of racism, materialism and militarism.

Racism

Whites have 22 times more wealth than blacks and 15 times more wealth than Latinos. Median household net worth for whites was $110,000 versus $4,900 for blacks versus $7,424 for Latinos, according to CNN Money and the Census Bureau.

African Americans are 12.3 percent of the population but 4.7 percent of attorneys.

Latinos are 15.8 percent of the population but only 2.8 percent of attorneys.

African American students face harsher discipline, have less access to rigorous high school classes and are more likely to be taught by less experienced and lower paid teachers according to a government sponsored national survey of 72,000 schools.

13% of whites, 21% of blacks and 32% of Hispanics lack health insurance, according to a Kaiser Foundation study (pdf).

The latest Census analysis (pdf) shows 9% of white families below the US poverty level and 23% of Black and Hispanic families below the same levels.

Materialism

The chairman of Goldman Sachs was awarded $21 million in total pay for 2012, according to the Wall Street Journal.6

From 1978 to 2011, compensation for workers grew by 5.7 percent. During the same time, CEO compensation grew by 725 percent. In 1965 CEO earned about 20 times the typical worker. In 2011, the typical CEO “earned” over 200 times the typical worker.

The top 1% of earners took home 93% of the growth in incomes in 2010, while middle income household have lower incomes than they did in 1996, according to Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

People in the US spent $52 billion on pets in 2012, according to the American Pet Products Association. The latest figures from the Census Bureau indicate the US spends less than $50 billion per year in non-military foreign aid.

Student loan debt is now higher than total credit card debt and total auto loan debt.

Over 2.8 million children in the US live in homes of extreme poverty, less than $2 per person per day before government benefits. This is double what it was 15 years ago.

Nearly one in six people in the US live in poverty according to the Census. One in five children live in poverty. Latest information shows 17% of white children in poverty, 32% of Hispanic children and 35% of black children (pdf).

Militarism

The US spends more (pdf) on its military than any country in the world. The US spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined! More than China, Russia, UK, France, Japan, Indian, Saudi Arabia, German and Brazil together.

The 2013 military budget authorizes spending $633 billion on our military defense, not including money for the Veterans Administration. The VA budget submission for 2013 is $140 billion. To compare, total federal spending on Social Security for 2012 was about $773 billion.

The US has 737 military bases outside the US around the world and over 2 million military personnel, including Defense Department and local hires.

The US leads the world in the sale of weapons in the global arms market. In 2011 the US tripled sales to $66 billion making up three-quarters of the global market. Russia was second with less than $5 billion in sales.

45% of the 1.6 million veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking disability benefits from physical and mental injuries suffered while in the service.

Suicides in active US military, 349 in 2012, exceeded the 295 total combat deaths in Afghanistan in 2012, according to the Associated Press.

Conclusion

These are challenges we should face with the hope and courage Dr. King and so many others have taught us as we celebrate his accomplishment and his inspiration.

Bill Quigley

Bill Quigley is Associate Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.  He is a Katrina survivor and has been active in human rights in Haiti for years. He volunteers with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and the Bureau de Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Port au Prince. Contact Bill at quigley77@gmail.com

Sanctions: Weapons of Mass Death and Destruction

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Iran hasn’t been in the headlines in recent months, but there’s a lot of talk that 2013 will be the year of decision on Iran—whether a deal will be struck between the U.S. and its allies and Iran on ending or restricting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, or whether the U.S., Israel and other big powers will attack Iran.

The debate about confirming former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, revolves around whether he’s “tough enough” on Iran, while leading think-tank strategists are calling for overt preparations for attacking Iran, tougher economic sanctions and “more explicit threats to destroy its nuclear programme by military means.” (Jim Lobe, January 16)

“In 2013, perhaps in the next few months, President Obama will face a crisis on Iran. He has categorically ruled out living with a nuclear-armed Iran under a Cold War—style policy of containment,” Fareed Zakaria writes. “That means either Iran will capitulate to U.S. demands or the U.S. will go to war with Iran. Since the first option is extremely unlikely and the second extremely unattractive, the Obama administration needs to find a negotiated solution. That means using sticks and carrots—or what is often called coercive diplomacy—to get a deal that Washington and Tehran can live with….Otherwise, 2013 will be the year that we accepted a nuclear Iran or went to war.” (“The Year We Reckon With Iran,” January 21, Time)

In short, tough sanctions are being promoted as a kinder, gentler alternative to war. And perhaps some people voted for Obama in part because they perceived him as less likely to start a war with Iran than Romney.

But let’s get clear: Stiffening sanctions is a form of war against an entire population—a real weapon of mass destruction that is already imposing enormous suffering and death on the Iranian population. The U.S. is literally murdering babies and other vulnerable sections of the populations, but this fact is rarely mentioned by the cheerleaders of empire—aka the U.S. media—and there is no debate about it within the U.S. ruling class.

“Targeted” Sanctions Target the Iranian People

The U.S. claims that its sanctions are “smart” or “targeted” and only aimed at Iran’s government—the Islamic Republic—and its top leaders. But because the U.S. and its big power allies (Germany, France, Britain and other European countries) are sanctioning and embargoing Iranian banks, they have crippled Iran’s ability to pay for urgently needed imports—including medicines—and halted many shipments. In addition, many drugs and needed chemicals aren’t getting into Iran thanks to the banning under the sanctions of “dual-use” chemicals with possible military applications.

Here are some of the impacts being felt, just in terms of drugs and medicines:

“Hundreds of thousands of Iranians with serious illnesses have been put at imminent risk by the unintended consequences of international sanctions, which have led to dire shortages of life-saving medicines such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer and blood-clotting agents for haemophiliacs,” Guardian UK reports.

Iran produces most of its medicines internally, but sanctions have crippled domestic production making many Iranian-made drugs unavailable or very costly. This past October, two pharmaceutical companies closed and others are facing closure or bankruptcy.

The director general of Iran’s largest biggest pharmaceutical firm told the Guardian, “There are patients for whom a medicine is the different between life and death. What is the world doing about this? Are Britain, Germany, and France thinking about what they are doing? If you have cancer and you can’t find your chemotherapy drug, your death will come soon. It is as simple as that.”

His firm can no longer buy medical equipment including sterilizing machines essential for making many drugs, and some of the biggest western pharmaceutical companies refuse to have anything to do with Iran. “The west lies when it says it hasn’t imposed sanctions on our medical sector. Many medical firms have sanctioned us,” he said.

According to the Guardian, there’s a “looming” health crisis in Iran. Each year 85,000 new cancer patients are diagnosed who need chemotherapy and radiotherapy, now in short supply.

“Iranian health experts say that annual figure has nearly doubled in five years, referring to a ‘cancer tsunami’ most likely caused by air, water and soil pollution and possibly cheap low-quality imported food and other products….An estimated 23,000 Iranians with HIV/Aids have had their access to the drugs they need to keep them alive severely restricted. The society representing the 8,000 Iranians suffering from thalassaemia, an inherited blood disorder, has said its members are beginning to die because of a lack of an essential drug, deferoxamine, used to control the iron content in the blood.”

Iran’s over 8,000 hemophiliacs are in grave peril. It’s more and more difficult for them to get blood clotting agents, and operations on hemophiliacs “have been virtually suspended because of the risks created by the shortages,” the Guardian reports. At the end of October 2012, a 15-year-old child died for lack of coagulant medication. The head of Iran’s Hemophilia Society said, “This is a blatant hostage-taking of the most vulnerable people by countries which claim they care about human rights. Even a few days of delay can have serious consequences like haemorrhage and disability.” (See, Mehrnaz Shahabi, “The unfolding humanitarian catastrophe of economic sanctions on the people of Iran.”)

Last year, Iran’s Hemophilia Society told the World Federation of Hemophilia that tens of thousands of children’s lives were being threatened by shortages of medicines.

Again, this is just the sanctions’ impact on Iran’s healthcare—it is also devastating the population in a hundred other ways big and small.

They Know…And They’re Killing Babies Anyway

The Obama administration and its allies know full well how sanctions are impacting the people of Iran—including helpless babies. In fact, they’ve admitted in rare moments of truth-telling (mainly within their own ranks in discussions of strategy and tactics) that the whole point of sanctions is to cause suffering and discontent among Iran’s population, in order to pressure or collapse the Islamic Republic. An article last year in an article titled, “Public ire one goal of Iran sanctions, U.S. official says, the Washington Post reported, “The Obama administration sees economic sanctions against Iran as building public discontent that will help compel the government to abandon an alleged nuclear weapons program, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official.”

A column in the rightwing Wall Street Journal – “What Iran Sanctions Can and Can’t Do,” — was more explicit:  sanctions were a “tool to precipitate the regime’s collapse.”

Too many people see sanctions as a thoughtful, peaceful, or diplomatic alternative to war. Bullshit.

It’s nonsensical as well as criminal because sanctions are already in effect killing people, but it’s also because sanctions can be part of the preparations or strategy for war. This is what the U.S. did to Iraq before the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. Between these two wars and the intervening 13 years of sanctions, well over a million—probably over 2 million—Iraqis were killed. And did those sanctions prevent war? No. Because one goal of imperialist sanctions is to win political support for war if that’s deemed necessary: “We tried sanctions and had to resort to war,” they’ll claim.

Another goal is to soften an enemy up so waging war will prove easier—again, if the imperialists deem it necessary.

Sanctions or War = Imperialist Aggression

Neither imperialist war, nor imperialist sanctions, nor imperialist “diplomacy” are anything other than different forms of imperialist aggression. None of them are moral, or just. All must be opposed. It’s unconscionable for people in the U.S. to sit passively and silently by as these crimes are being carried out in our names, resulting in the suffering and deaths of thousands of people, thousands of miles away.

We can’t accept the terms that it’s either sanctions or war – either slow death or fast death. The U.S. is killing Iranian civilians in the interests of an unjust empire, and this is something that everyone with a conscience and a basic sense of right and wrong should oppose and protest.

Larry Everest is a correspondent for Revolution newspaper (revcom.us), where this article first appeared, and author of Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage 2004).  In 1991 he traveled to Iraq and documented the impact of the Persian Gulf War and sanctions in his film: Iraq: War Against the People.  He can be reached at larryeverest@hotmail.com.

Nixon Went to China, Who Will Go to Iran?

Iranians are now beginning to die for lack of medicines kept out by U.S.-imposed sanctions.  I recently questioned (and videoed) former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about her notorious defense of sanctions that killed over a half million young Iraqi children.  She said she'd been wrong to say what she'd said.  She did not comment on the appropriateness of what she'd done.  I asked her if what we were doing to Iran was also wrong, and she replied, "No, absolutely not."

So, somehow it is good and proper for us to be killing Iranian children -- although perhaps not to be talking about it.

I suspect that some of the reasons why we imagine there is a greater good being served by such actions are the same reasons no U.S. president will go to Iran in the manner in which Nixon went to China.  Of course, the common political wisdom in the United States holds that the president who went to China had to be a Republican.  By the same logic, the president who goes to Iran must be a militarist power-mad servant of the corporate oligarchy from the Republican party and not a militarist power-mad servant of the corporate oligarchy from the Democratic party.  That wouldn't do at all.  And yet, U.S. conduct toward Iran has varied little from Bush to Clinton to Bush Jr. to Obama/Clinton, H.  A hopeless spiral of delusional counter-productive approaches toward the Islamic Republic of Iran needs to be broken by a 180 degree turn, and it won't make much substantive difference who does it, as long as it doesn't come too late.

Whether the authors intended exactly that or not, the above is the lesson I take away from an excellent new book by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett called "Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran."

It has been U.S. policy for decades not to engage with Iran, and -- misleading rhetoric notwithstanding -- it still is.  "More than any of his predecessors, in fact, Obama has given engagement a bad name, by claiming to have reached out to Tehran and failed when the truth is he never really tried." 

The Leveretts trace official U.S. policy on Iran to a trio of myths: the myths of irrationality, illegitimacy, and isolation. 

IRRATIONALITY:

The evidence of irrationality on the part of the Iranian people or the Iranian government is very slim.  I can find much more irrationality in the U.S. public and government.  Iranians, in fact, are better at distinguishing between our people and our government than we seem to be at making that distinction on their side.  Iran has funded Hizballah and HAMAS, and we call those groups terrorists.  But we call any militants opposing Pentagon interests terrorists.  Iranian leaders have made comments verging on anti-Semitic (and routinely distorted into outrageous anti-Semitism), but nothing approaching the things Anwar Sadat or Mahmoud Abbas said or wrote before they were deemed rational actors with whom the U.S. and Israel could (and did) work. 

Iran's policies have been defensive, not aggressive.  Iran has not threatened to attack or attacked others.  Iran has refused to retaliate against chemical weapons attacks or terrorism or our shooting down a commercial jet or our funding efforts within Iran to manipulate its elections or our training of militants seeking to overthrow Iran's government.  Iran has refused to develop chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.  Unlike Britain, Russia, or the United States, when provoked Iran has refused to invade Afghanistan, choosing wise reflection over hot-tempered anger.  Look at the polling across the Middle East: people fear the United States and Israel, not Iran. 

Iran's approach to the United States over the years has been rational and forbearant.  In 1995 the Islamic Republic of Iran offered its first foreign oil development contract to the United States, which turned it down.  Iran aided President Clinton by shipping arms to Bosnia, which Clinton turned around and condemned Iran for when the story became public.  In 2001, the President of Iran requested permission to pray for 911 victims at the site of the World Trade Center and offered to assist in counterterrorism plans, but was turned down.  Iran assisted the United States with its invasion of Afghanistan and was labeled "evil" in return.  The current president of Iran wrote long friendly letters to President Bush and President Obama, both of whom ignored them except to allow their staffs to publicly mock them.  The Iranian government repeatedly proposed substantive dialogue, offering to put everything on the table, including its nuclear energy program, and was turned down.  The Obama administration gave Turkey and Brazil terms it was sure Iran wouldn't agree to; Iran agreed to them; and the White House rejected them, choosing instead to grow outraged at Brazil and Turkey.

Iran tried to believe in the change in Obama's (no doubt domestically intended) rhetoric, but never encountered any substance, only fraud and hostility.  That Iran attempts civil relations with a nation surrounding and threatening it, imposing deadly sanctions on it, funding terrorism within its borders, and publicly mocking its sincere approaches is indication of either rationality or something almost Christ-like (I'm inclined to go with rationality).

ILLEGITIMACY:

War is immoral, illegal, and counter-productive.  That doesn't change if the people bombed are living or suffering under an illegitimate government.  Here in the United States an unaccountable Supreme Court rewrites our basic laws, unverifiable privately owned and operated machines count our votes, candidates are chosen by wealth, media coverage is dolled out by a corporate cartel, presidents disregard the legislature, and high crimes and misdemeanors are not prosecuted.  And yet, nonetheless -- amazing to tell -- we'd rather not be bombed.  I don't give a damn whether this scholar or that scholar believes the Iranian government is legitimate or not; I don't want any human beings killed in my name with my money.

That being said, common claims of illegitimacy for Iran's government are myths.  Western experts have predicted its imminent collapse (as well as its imminent development of nukes) for decades.  Iranian elections are far more credible than U.S. ones.  A government need not be secular to be legitimate.  I might favor secular governments, but I'm not an Iranian.  I'm a citizen of a government that has been seeking to control Iran's government for over a half century since overthrowing it in 1953; I don't get to have a voice.  Iranians are gaining in rights, in education, in health, in life expectancy (the opposite in many ways of the course we are on in the United States).  Iranian women used to be permitted to dress as they liked but not to pursue the education and career they liked.  Now that has largely been reversed.  Iranian women are guaranteed paid maternity leave that outstrips our standards.  Iran's approach to drugs is more rational than our own, its approach to homosexuality more mixed than we suspect, its investment in science cutting edge. 

All of that being said, the Iranian government abuses its people in ways that need to be addressed by its people and should have been directly addressed by the Leveretts' book.

I also want to quibble with the Leveretts' account of the 1979 revolution in light of the views of some who were there at the time.  I'm not convinced that Khomeini led and directed the revolution from the start.  I'm willing to believe that secular pro-democracy activists did not represent the views of all Iranians.  There's no question that significant support swung to Khomeini and the mullahs who claimed power.  But Khomeini's supposed leadership was news in the West before it was ever heard of in Tehran.  The Shah was not opposed for his secularism, but for his surveillance, imprisonment, torture, murder, greed, expropriation of wealth, and subservience to foreigners.  The Leveretts admit that Khomeini originally proposed a government with less power for himself and then revised his plans, but they claim that he only did so in response to secularists' insistence that he hold no power at all.  Not the strongest defense of tyranny I've ever encountered. 

The authors then cite a public referendum of December 2-3, 1979, in which, they say, "the new constitution was approved by 98 percent of participating voters."  Sounds impressive, right?  Guess what choices the voters were offered: an Islamic republic or the Shah!  Of course they chose the Islamic republic! But to turn around and claim that 98% voted against a secular republic is misleading.  During the 2003-2013 U.S. war on Iraq, a U.S. Democratic-Party group called MoveOn.org polled its membership.  Did they support House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plan for more war or President George W. Bush's?  Of course, they overwhelmingly chose Pelosi's.  MoveOn then turned around and claimed that their people opposed Congresswoman Barbara Lee's proposal to end the war.  Such votes should be given no more dignity than they deserve.

How the government of the 1980s came to be does not tell us everything we should know about today's government, but nothing you could tell me about today's government would have any relevance to the morality of bombing the people of Iran.

ISOLATION:

The United States has sought to isolate Iran and failed dramatically, with Iran now chairing the Nonaligned Movement.  It has sought to use economic and other pressures to overthrow the government, and instead strengthened it.  In 2011, Obama opened a "virtual embassy" to propagandize the Iranian people for "regime change."  In 2012 it removed the terrorist designation for an opposition terrorist group called the MEK.  Imagine if Iran did such things to us, rather than just being Muslim or whatever it is that it's actually done to us.  The Leveretts present a long and unrelenting history of incompetence and irrationality . . . from the U.S. side.  They have been reduced, reasonably enough, to something that sounds ridiculous: longing for Richard Nixon.

Aaron Swartz: Suicide or Murder?

Advocates of online openness and freedom lost a committed champion. The Economist said to call him "gifted would be to miss the point. As far as the internet was concerned, he was the gift."

Post-Iraq-War US Intel Chief Praised

Thomas Fingar, former Director of the National Intelligence Council, will receive the annual award from Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence in recognition of Fingar’s work from 2005 to 2008 restoring respect for the battered discipline of U.S. intelligence analysis after the fraudulent assessments on Iraq’s non-existent WMD.Thomas Fingar, who served as U.S. Director of the National Intelligence Council in the wake of the Iraq War intelligence fiasco.

In 2007, as chief of intelligence analysis, Fingar managed a thoroughly professional – and unsparingly honest – National Intelligence Estimate on the live-wire issue of Iran’s nuclear program. That NIE was instrumental in thwarting plans by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to attack Iran before they left office.

At the time, it was widely believed in the Official Washington that Tehran was developing a nuclear weapon but, as a seasoned intelligence professional, Fingar was allergic to “group think.” He recruited the best experts and ordered an empirical, bottom-up approach to the evidence. And, as luck would have it, some critical new intelligence became available in 2007 during the drafting.

Thus, in the Iran NIE of early November 2007, all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies judged “with high confidence” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapon design and weaponization work in 2003. That key judgment has been revalidated in testimony to Congress every year since.

Fingar, now a professor at Stanford, is teaching in its overseas program at Oxford in the United Kingdom. The award – named for the late CIA analyst Sam Adams who challenged the U.S. military’s overly optimistic claims about Vietcong and North Vietnamese troop strength during the Vietnam War – will be presented to Fingar at the historic Oxford Union.

Discussing his upcoming award with Sam Adams Associates, Fingar showed little patience with the nonsensical charges that he and his analysts had to endure after the NIE on Iran hit the streets. He reminded us:

“The whole purpose was to provide as accurate and objective a picture of what we knew at the time. To have done otherwise would have been unprofessional and inconsistent with the reason we have an intelligence establishment.

“Every other characterization of security-related affairs provided to decision makers has, or is assumed to have, a policy agenda. The Intelligence Community exists not just to provide analyses based on ‘all’ the information available to others – plus, when it can get it, information not available to others – but also, and more importantly, to assemble and assess the information as objectively as possible.

“The job of the Intelligence Community is to help decision makers to make better-informed decisions. It most emphatically is not to lead or pressure them to decide issues in a particular way. … It is also the reason we spend billions of dollars on intelligence analysis. … In a fundamental way, we were simply ‘doing our jobs’ when we produced the Iran NIE.

“Those who did not like the conclusions knew or soon realized that they could not challenge our findings by disputing the existence or meaning of our evidence, so they pursued a different course. The ploy was completely transparent: allege that those who wrote the NIE were intelligence amateurs who had a political agenda, and claim that the alleged principal authors had been career-long opponents of President Bush.

“There are many ‘problems’ with this line of attack – problems that were overlooked by a remarkable number of journalists. … I didn’t write the NIE but, at the time, I had 37 years of intelligence experience – probably no longer an amateur.

“Neocon critics never explained why, if I had been a career-long opponent of George W. Bush, he had nominated me to be an assistant secretary of state, endorsed my selection as the first Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis, and approved my selection to supervise preparation of materials for his daily briefing.”

Blocking a Dash to War

Without doubt, the NIE on Iran’s nuclear program made another rash decision to go to war in the Middle East untenable.

I myself have been involved in intelligence analysis for 50 years – 27 at the CIA; two as an Army infantry/intelligence officer, and the rest as a close observer. Yet, the November 2007 NIE is the only one I know of that deserves unambiguous credit for stopping an unnecessary war, one that could have been even more disastrous than the Bush administration’s excellent adventure in Iraq.

Don’t take my word for it. In his memoir Decision Points, President George W. Bush acknowledged that the “eye-popping” findings of the 2007 NIE “tied my hands on the military side. … After the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?

“I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was … I certainly hoped intelligence analysts weren’t trying to influence policy. Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact – and not a good one.”

As Bush’s comment made clear, intelligence analysts do not operate in a political vacuum. The real professionals, however, construct a protective shield against political influence, bias and an understandable-but-anathema eagerness to please superiors in the White House.

When I tell Washington cognoscenti that this shielding can actually work, and that the debacle with “intelligence” on Iraq was the “Cheney/Bush exemption to the rule,” their eyes roll in disbelief. Everyone in Washington is perceived to have a political agenda. It takes guts for senior intelligence officials to avoid playing into that perception.

Perhaps President Bush and Vice President Cheney can be forgiven for assuming that all senior intelligence officials are as eager to politicize their work as were former CIA Director George Tenet, his deputy John McLaughlin, and the senior managers who had bubbled to the top – with disastrous consequences for Iraq.

More than two decades had gone by since Director William Casey and his protégé, Robert Gates, began politicizing intelligence big-time. That is usually enough time to corrupt thoroughly any institution – and that proved to be true for the CIA. However, after the Iraq WMD catastrophe, professionals like Fingar stepped in to begin righting the intelligence ship.

The November 2007 NIE landed like a dead fish on the White House doorstep, causing the neocons and other war hawks to challenge the unanimous judgment of all 16 intelligence agencies as naïve. The drafters were pilloried with charges that they were soft on Iran and just trying to stop a war! But the deed was done; and we were spared another unnecessary bloodletting.

Oxford Site for Award

The Oxford Union will be hosting the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence award ceremony on Jan. 23. The ceremony will feature several individuals well known in the field of intelligence and related topics, including an exclusive address via videolink from Julian Assange, who won the award in 2010.

The award is one of the few accolades for high-level whistleblowers who have taken risks to honor the public’s need to know. Also at the Oxford ceremony will be several previous Sam Adams awardees, including Coleen Rowley, Katharine Gun, Craig Murray, and Thomas Drake. The acceptance speech by Dr. Fingar will be followed by briefer remarks from a few previous Sam Adams awardees.

Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence was established in 2002 by colleagues and admirers of the late CIA intelligence analyst Sam Adams to recognize those who uphold his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power. In honoring Adams’s memory, SAAII confers an award each year to someone in intelligence or related work who exemplifies Sam Adam’s courage, persistence, and devotion to truth — no matter the consequences.

It was Adams who discovered in 1967 that there were more than a half-million Vietnamese Communists under arms. This was roughly twice the number that the U.S. command in Saigon would admit to, lest Americans learn that claims of “progress” were bogus. As proven later in court, Gen. William Westmoreland had simply limited the number Army intelligence was allowed to carry on its books. His deputy, Gen. Creighton Abrams revealed the deception in a cable from Saigon:

A SECRET/EYES ONLY cable from Abrams on Aug. 20, 1967 stated: “We have been projecting an image of success over recent months,” and cautioned that if the higher figures became public, “all available caveats and explanations will not prevent the press from drawing an erroneous and gloomy conclusion.”

The Communist countrywide offensive during Tet (January/February 1968) made it clear that the generals had been lying and that Sam Adams’ higher figures were correct. Senior officials of the Washington Establishment were aware of the deception, but lacked the courage to stand up to Westmoreland. Sam Adams himself was too much a creature of the system to go “outside channels.”

A few weeks after Tet, however, Daniel Ellsberg rose to the occasion. Ellsberg learned that Westmoreland was asking for 206,000 more troops to widen the war into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam — right up to the border with China, and perhaps beyond. Someone (we still don’t know who) promptly leaked to the New York Times Westmoreland’s troop request, emboldening Ellsberg to do likewise with Sam Adams’ figures.

It was Ellsberg’s first unauthorized disclosure. He had come to the view that leaking truth about a deceitful war would be “a patriotic and constructive act.” On March 19, 1968, the Times published a stinging story based on Adams’s figures.

On March 25, President Johnson complained to a small group, “The leaks to the New York Times hurt us. … We have no support for the war. This is caused by the 206,000 troop request and the leaks. … I would have given Westy the 206,000 men.”  On March 31, 1968, Johnson ordered a bombing pause, opted for negotiations, and announced that he would not run for another term in November.

Sam Adams continued to press for honesty but stayed “inside channels” — and failed. He died at 55 of a heart attack in 1988, nagged by the thought that, had he gone to the media, thousands of lives might have been saved. His story is told in War of Numbers, published posthumously.

The annual Sam Adams Award has been given in previous years to truth tellers Coleen Rowley of the FBI; Katharine Gun of British Intelligence; Sibel Edmonds of the FBI; Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan; Sam Provance; former US Army Sgt at Abu Ghraib; Maj. Frank Grevil of Danish Army Intelligence; Larry Wilkerson, Col., U.S. Army (ret.), former chief of staff to Colin Powell at State; Julian Assange of WikiLeaks; and (ex aequo) to Thomas Drake, former senior official of NSA and Jesselyn Radack, Director of National Security and Human Rights, Government Accountability Project.

© 2012 Consortium News

Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Post-Iraq-War US Intel Chief Praised

Thomas Fingar, former Director of the National Intelligence Council, will receive the annual award from Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence in recognition of Fingar’s work from 2005 to 2008 restoring respect for the battered discipline of U.S. intelligence analysis after the fraudulent assessments on Iraq’s non-existent WMD.Thomas Fingar, who served as U.S. Director of the National Intelligence Council in the wake of the Iraq War intelligence fiasco.

In 2007, as chief of intelligence analysis, Fingar managed a thoroughly professional – and unsparingly honest – National Intelligence Estimate on the live-wire issue of Iran’s nuclear program. That NIE was instrumental in thwarting plans by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to attack Iran before they left office.

At the time, it was widely believed in the Official Washington that Tehran was developing a nuclear weapon but, as a seasoned intelligence professional, Fingar was allergic to “group think.” He recruited the best experts and ordered an empirical, bottom-up approach to the evidence. And, as luck would have it, some critical new intelligence became available in 2007 during the drafting.

Thus, in the Iran NIE of early November 2007, all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies judged “with high confidence” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapon design and weaponization work in 2003. That key judgment has been revalidated in testimony to Congress every year since.

Fingar, now a professor at Stanford, is teaching in its overseas program at Oxford in the United Kingdom. The award – named for the late CIA analyst Sam Adams who challenged the U.S. military’s overly optimistic claims about Vietcong and North Vietnamese troop strength during the Vietnam War – will be presented to Fingar at the historic Oxford Union.

Discussing his upcoming award with Sam Adams Associates, Fingar showed little patience with the nonsensical charges that he and his analysts had to endure after the NIE on Iran hit the streets. He reminded us:

“The whole purpose was to provide as accurate and objective a picture of what we knew at the time. To have done otherwise would have been unprofessional and inconsistent with the reason we have an intelligence establishment.

“Every other characterization of security-related affairs provided to decision makers has, or is assumed to have, a policy agenda. The Intelligence Community exists not just to provide analyses based on ‘all’ the information available to others – plus, when it can get it, information not available to others – but also, and more importantly, to assemble and assess the information as objectively as possible.

“The job of the Intelligence Community is to help decision makers to make better-informed decisions. It most emphatically is not to lead or pressure them to decide issues in a particular way. … It is also the reason we spend billions of dollars on intelligence analysis. … In a fundamental way, we were simply ‘doing our jobs’ when we produced the Iran NIE.

“Those who did not like the conclusions knew or soon realized that they could not challenge our findings by disputing the existence or meaning of our evidence, so they pursued a different course. The ploy was completely transparent: allege that those who wrote the NIE were intelligence amateurs who had a political agenda, and claim that the alleged principal authors had been career-long opponents of President Bush.

“There are many ‘problems’ with this line of attack – problems that were overlooked by a remarkable number of journalists. … I didn’t write the NIE but, at the time, I had 37 years of intelligence experience – probably no longer an amateur.

“Neocon critics never explained why, if I had been a career-long opponent of George W. Bush, he had nominated me to be an assistant secretary of state, endorsed my selection as the first Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis, and approved my selection to supervise preparation of materials for his daily briefing.”

Blocking a Dash to War

Without doubt, the NIE on Iran’s nuclear program made another rash decision to go to war in the Middle East untenable.

I myself have been involved in intelligence analysis for 50 years – 27 at the CIA; two as an Army infantry/intelligence officer, and the rest as a close observer. Yet, the November 2007 NIE is the only one I know of that deserves unambiguous credit for stopping an unnecessary war, one that could have been even more disastrous than the Bush administration’s excellent adventure in Iraq.

Don’t take my word for it. In his memoir Decision Points, President George W. Bush acknowledged that the “eye-popping” findings of the 2007 NIE “tied my hands on the military side. … After the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?

“I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was … I certainly hoped intelligence analysts weren’t trying to influence policy. Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact – and not a good one.”

As Bush’s comment made clear, intelligence analysts do not operate in a political vacuum. The real professionals, however, construct a protective shield against political influence, bias and an understandable-but-anathema eagerness to please superiors in the White House.

When I tell Washington cognoscenti that this shielding can actually work, and that the debacle with “intelligence” on Iraq was the “Cheney/Bush exemption to the rule,” their eyes roll in disbelief. Everyone in Washington is perceived to have a political agenda. It takes guts for senior intelligence officials to avoid playing into that perception.

Perhaps President Bush and Vice President Cheney can be forgiven for assuming that all senior intelligence officials are as eager to politicize their work as were former CIA Director George Tenet, his deputy John McLaughlin, and the senior managers who had bubbled to the top – with disastrous consequences for Iraq.

More than two decades had gone by since Director William Casey and his protégé, Robert Gates, began politicizing intelligence big-time. That is usually enough time to corrupt thoroughly any institution – and that proved to be true for the CIA. However, after the Iraq WMD catastrophe, professionals like Fingar stepped in to begin righting the intelligence ship.

The November 2007 NIE landed like a dead fish on the White House doorstep, causing the neocons and other war hawks to challenge the unanimous judgment of all 16 intelligence agencies as naïve. The drafters were pilloried with charges that they were soft on Iran and just trying to stop a war! But the deed was done; and we were spared another unnecessary bloodletting.

Oxford Site for Award

The Oxford Union will be hosting the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence award ceremony on Jan. 23. The ceremony will feature several individuals well known in the field of intelligence and related topics, including an exclusive address via videolink from Julian Assange, who won the award in 2010.

The award is one of the few accolades for high-level whistleblowers who have taken risks to honor the public’s need to know. Also at the Oxford ceremony will be several previous Sam Adams awardees, including Coleen Rowley, Katharine Gun, Craig Murray, and Thomas Drake. The acceptance speech by Dr. Fingar will be followed by briefer remarks from a few previous Sam Adams awardees.

Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence was established in 2002 by colleagues and admirers of the late CIA intelligence analyst Sam Adams to recognize those who uphold his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power. In honoring Adams’s memory, SAAII confers an award each year to someone in intelligence or related work who exemplifies Sam Adam’s courage, persistence, and devotion to truth — no matter the consequences.

It was Adams who discovered in 1967 that there were more than a half-million Vietnamese Communists under arms. This was roughly twice the number that the U.S. command in Saigon would admit to, lest Americans learn that claims of “progress” were bogus. As proven later in court, Gen. William Westmoreland had simply limited the number Army intelligence was allowed to carry on its books. His deputy, Gen. Creighton Abrams revealed the deception in a cable from Saigon:

A SECRET/EYES ONLY cable from Abrams on Aug. 20, 1967 stated: “We have been projecting an image of success over recent months,” and cautioned that if the higher figures became public, “all available caveats and explanations will not prevent the press from drawing an erroneous and gloomy conclusion.”

The Communist countrywide offensive during Tet (January/February 1968) made it clear that the generals had been lying and that Sam Adams’ higher figures were correct. Senior officials of the Washington Establishment were aware of the deception, but lacked the courage to stand up to Westmoreland. Sam Adams himself was too much a creature of the system to go “outside channels.”

A few weeks after Tet, however, Daniel Ellsberg rose to the occasion. Ellsberg learned that Westmoreland was asking for 206,000 more troops to widen the war into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam — right up to the border with China, and perhaps beyond. Someone (we still don’t know who) promptly leaked to the New York Times Westmoreland’s troop request, emboldening Ellsberg to do likewise with Sam Adams’ figures.

It was Ellsberg’s first unauthorized disclosure. He had come to the view that leaking truth about a deceitful war would be “a patriotic and constructive act.” On March 19, 1968, the Times published a stinging story based on Adams’s figures.

On March 25, President Johnson complained to a small group, “The leaks to the New York Times hurt us. … We have no support for the war. This is caused by the 206,000 troop request and the leaks. … I would have given Westy the 206,000 men.”  On March 31, 1968, Johnson ordered a bombing pause, opted for negotiations, and announced that he would not run for another term in November.

Sam Adams continued to press for honesty but stayed “inside channels” — and failed. He died at 55 of a heart attack in 1988, nagged by the thought that, had he gone to the media, thousands of lives might have been saved. His story is told in War of Numbers, published posthumously.

The annual Sam Adams Award has been given in previous years to truth tellers Coleen Rowley of the FBI; Katharine Gun of British Intelligence; Sibel Edmonds of the FBI; Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan; Sam Provance; former US Army Sgt at Abu Ghraib; Maj. Frank Grevil of Danish Army Intelligence; Larry Wilkerson, Col., U.S. Army (ret.), former chief of staff to Colin Powell at State; Julian Assange of WikiLeaks; and (ex aequo) to Thomas Drake, former senior official of NSA and Jesselyn Radack, Director of National Security and Human Rights, Government Accountability Project.

© 2012 Consortium News

Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Post Iraq War US Intel Chief Praised

Thomas Fingar, former Director of the National Intelligence Council, will receive the annual award from Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence in recognition of Fingar’s work from 2005 to 2008 restoring respect for the battered discipline of U.S. intelligence analysis after the fraudulent assessments on Iraq’s non-existent WMD.

In 2007, as chief of intelligence analysis, Fingar managed a thoroughly professional – and unsparingly honest – National Intelligence Estimate on the live-wire issue of Iran’s nuclear program. That NIE was instrumental in thwarting plans by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to attack Iran before they left office.

At the time, it was widely believed in the Official Washington that Tehran was developing a nuclear weapon but, as a seasoned intelligence professional, Fingar was allergic to “group think.” He recruited the best experts and ordered an empirical, bottom-up approach to the evidence. And, as luck would have it, some critical new intelligence became available in 2007 during the drafting.

Thus, in the Iran NIE of early November 2007, all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies judged “with high confidence” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapon design and weaponization work in 2003. That key judgment has been revalidated in testimony to Congress every year since.

Fingar, now a professor at Stanford, is teaching in its overseas program at Oxford in the United Kingdom. The award – named for the late CIA analyst Sam Adams who challenged the U.S. military’s overly optimistic claims about Vietcong and North Vietnamese troop strength during the Vietnam War – will be presented to Fingar at the historic Oxford Union.

Discussing his upcoming award with Sam Adams Associates, Fingar showed little patience with the nonsensical charges that he and his analysts had to endure after the NIE on Iran hit the streets. He reminded us:

“The whole purpose was to provide as accurate and objective a picture of what we knew at the time. To have done otherwise would have been unprofessional and inconsistent with the reason we have an intelligence establishment.

“Every other characterization of security-related affairs provided to decision makers has, or is assumed to have, a policy agenda. The Intelligence Community exists not just to provide analyses based on ‘all’ the information available to others – plus, when it can get it, information not available to others – but also, and more importantly, to assemble and assess the information as objectively as possible.

“The job of the Intelligence Community is to help decision makers to make better-informed decisions. It most emphatically is not to lead or pressure them to decide issues in a particular way. … It is also the reason we spend billions of dollars on intelligence analysis. … In a fundamental way, we were simply ‘doing our jobs’ when we produced the Iran NIE.

“Those who did not like the conclusions knew or soon realized that they could not challenge our findings by disputing the existence or meaning of our evidence, so they pursued a different course. The ploy was completely transparent: allege that those who wrote the NIE were intelligence amateurs who had a political agenda, and claim that the alleged principal authors had been career-long opponents of President Bush.

“There are many ‘problems’ with this line of attack – problems that were overlooked by a remarkable number of journalists. … I didn’t write the NIE but, at the time, I had 37 years of intelligence experience – probably no longer an amateur.

“Neocon critics never explained why, if I had been a career-long opponent of George W. Bush, he had nominated me to be an assistant secretary of state, endorsed my selection as the first Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis, and approved my selection to supervise preparation of materials for his daily briefing.”

Blocking a Dash to War

Without doubt, the NIE on Iran’s nuclear program made another rash decision to go to war in the Middle East untenable.

I myself have been involved in intelligence analysis for 50 years – 27 at the CIA; two as an Army infantry/intelligence officer, and the rest as a close observer. Yet, the November 2007 NIE is the only one I know of that deserves unambiguous credit for stopping an unnecessary war, one that could have been even more disastrous than the Bush administration’s excellent adventure in Iraq.

Don’t take my word for it. In his memoir Decision Points, President George W. Bush acknowledged that the “eye-popping” findings of the 2007 NIE “tied my hands on the military side. … After the NIE, how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?

“I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was … I certainly hoped intelligence analysts weren’t trying to influence policy. Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact – and not a good one.”

As Bush’s comment made clear, intelligence analysts do not operate in a political vacuum. The real professionals, however, construct a protective shield against political influence, bias and an understandable-but-anathema eagerness to please superiors in the White House.

When I tell Washington cognoscenti that this shielding can actually work, and that the debacle with “intelligence” on Iraq was the “Cheney/Bush exemption to the rule,” their eyes roll in disbelief. Everyone in Washington is perceived to have a political agenda. It takes guts for senior intelligence officials to avoid playing into that perception.

Perhaps President Bush and Vice President Cheney can be forgiven for assuming that all senior intelligence officials are as eager to politicize their work as were former CIA Director George Tenet, his deputy John McLaughlin, and the senior managers who had bubbled to the top – with disastrous consequences for Iraq.

More than two decades had gone by since Director William Casey and his protégé, Robert Gates, began politicizing intelligence big-time. That is usually enough time to corrupt thoroughly any institution – and that proved to be true for the CIA. However, after the Iraq WMD catastrophe, professionals like Fingar stepped in to begin righting the intelligence ship.

The November 2007 NIE landed like a dead fish on the White House doorstep, causing the neocons and other war hawks to challenge the unanimous judgment of all 16 intelligence agencies as naïve. The drafters were pilloried with charges that they were soft on Iran and just trying to stop a war! But the deed was done; and we were spared another unnecessary bloodletting.

Oxford Site for Award

The Oxford Union will be hosting the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence award ceremony on Jan. 23. The ceremony will feature several individuals well known in the field of intelligence and related topics, including an exclusive address via videolink from Julian Assange, who won the award in 2010.

The award is one of the few accolades for high-level whistleblowers who have taken risks to honor the public’s need to know. Also at the Oxford ceremony will be several previous Sam Adams awardees, including Coleen Rowley, Katharine Gun, Craig Murray, and Thomas Drake. The acceptance speech by Dr. Fingar will be followed by briefer remarks from a few previous Sam Adams awardees.

Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence was established in 2002 by colleagues and admirers of the late CIA intelligence analyst Sam Adams to recognize those who uphold his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power. In honoring Adams’s memory, SAAII confers an award each year to someone in intelligence or related work who exemplifies Sam Adam’s courage, persistence, and devotion to truth — no matter the consequences.

It was Adams who discovered in 1967 that there were more than a half-million Vietnamese Communists under arms. This was roughly twice the number that the U.S. command in Saigon would admit to, lest Americans learn that claims of “progress” were bogus. As proven later in court, Gen. William Westmoreland had simply limited the number Army intelligence was allowed to carry on its books. His deputy, Gen. Creighton Abrams revealed the deception in a cable from Saigon:

A SECRET/EYES ONLY cable from Abrams on Aug. 20, 1967 stated: “We have been projecting an image of success over recent months,” and cautioned that if the higher figures became public, “all available caveats and explanations will not prevent the press from drawing an erroneous and gloomy conclusion.”

The Communist countrywide offensive during Tet (January/February 1968) made it clear that the generals had been lying and that Sam Adams’ higher figures were correct. Senior officials of the Washington Establishment were aware of the deception, but lacked the courage to stand up to Westmoreland. Sam Adams himself was too much a creature of the system to go “outside channels.”

A few weeks after Tet, however, Daniel Ellsberg rose to the occasion. Ellsberg learned that Westmoreland was asking for 206,000 more troops to widen the war into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam — right up to the border with China, and perhaps beyond. Someone (we still don’t know who) promptly leaked to the New York TimesWestmoreland’s troop request, emboldening Ellsberg to do likewise with Sam Adams’ figures.

It was Ellsberg’s first unauthorized disclosure. He had come to the view that leaking truth about a deceitful war would be “a patriotic and constructive act.” On March 19, 1968, the Times published a stinging story based on Adams’s figures.

On March 25, President Johnson complained to a small group, “The leaks to the New York Times hurt us. … We have no support for the war. This is caused by the 206,000 troop request and the leaks. … I would have given Westy the 206,000 men.”  On March 31, 1968, Johnson ordered a bombing pause, opted for negotiations, and announced that he would not run for another term in November.

Sam Adams continued to press for honesty but stayed “inside channels” — and failed. He died at 55 of a heart attack in 1988, nagged by the thought that, had he gone to the media, thousands of lives might have been saved. His story is told in War of Numbers, published posthumously.

The annual Sam Adams Award has been given in previous years to truth tellers Coleen Rowley of the FBI;Katharine Gun of British Intelligence; Sibel Edmonds of the FBI; Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan; Sam Provance; former US Army Sgt at Abu Ghraib; Maj. Frank Grevil of Danish Army Intelligence;Larry Wilkerson, Col., U.S. Army (ret.), former chief of staff to Colin Powell at State; Julian Assange of WikiLeaks; and (ex aequo) to Thomas Drake, former senior official of NSA and Jesselyn Radack, Director of National Security and Human Rights, Government Accountability Project.

Migrant Workers Can’t Win In Xenophobic Greece

When riot police side with the xenophobic Golden Dawn, who will fight for Greece's migrant workers? (Photo: Steve Jurvetson / Flickr)Across Europe, the economic crisis is driving communities to deep desperation, and the people who were always at the margins are getting pushed straight off the edge.

Under misguided austerity policies, unemployment has reached devastating levels in the euro zone--reaching 12 percent across the region and topping 50 percent for youth in Spain and Greece. But some communities are sinking faster than others. Struggling migrant communities--both economic immigrants and refugees--are more neglected by the state's social infrastructure than ever, while their native-born neighbors turn against them in a rash of xenophobic scapegoating.

Greece, which has long been a hub of immigration from Asia, Middle East and Africa, has become a cesspool of bigotry. According to a December report by Amnesty International, “Asylum-seekers, migrants, community centers, shops and mosques have been the target of such attacks which have been reported on an almost daily basis since the summer.”

Last September, an attack on a Pakistani-run barber shop showed how racism intersects with inhumane immigration policies:

The two men verbally attacked the Greek customer who was present for having a haircut in a shop owned by Pakistanis and stabbed him when he reacted. Then they started destroying the shop and throwing Molotov cocktails. The police came to investigate the incident and arrested two Pakistani nationals because they had no documents. In October, they were both in detention, pending deportation.

Meanwhile, dysfunctional European Union border policies leave Greece, due to its geography, bearing the brunt of the responsibility to absorb immigrants. Amnesty researchers found that many asylum seekers from countries such as Afghanistan and Syria flee to the Greek border, but instead of finding refuge they languish in detention under poor overcrowded conditions, while their claims wend through a broken, under-resourced bureaucracy.

The mistreatment of Greece's migrant workers and asylum seekers reflects the economic injustices facing all working people in a state that has mortgaged its democracy for a neoliberal austerity program. With Greece's economy expected to contract another 4 percent in the coming year, the misery continues to deepen.

Much of Greece's most brutal xenophobic violence is affiliated with Golden Dawn, the neo-fascist-associated movement known for mob harassment and beatings of migrants. Yet Greek police appear sympathetic to the Golden Dawn. The Guardian reported in October that police responded to clashes at an anti-fascist protest in Athens by detaining, abusing and torturing a group of protesters. Earlier reports suggested that police may be aiding Golden Dawn by intimidating people into “donating” to the group’s local charity programs. Whether or not the police are directly partnering with fascists, there’s no doubt that the state and the extreme Right are aligned in their vicious attacks on immigrants.

During Greece's economic collapse, Golden Dawn has gained broader popularity with the public and even won some parliamentary seats in recent elections. The group deftly exploits the public’s despair by “advocating the ousting of foreigners as “the only way to solve unemployment, poverty and criminality,” writes Amalia Loizidou in Socialism Today:

Golden Dawn’s electoral success in 2010 was the result of consistent local campaigns it had launched in the deprived neighborhoods. Whose fault is it, they endlessly asked, that these areas are deprived? Whose fault is it that there is such extreme poverty, unemployment, criminality, and no hope for the future? Its answer, of course, is to blame immigrants and foreigners, not the big-business bosses or capitalists. On the basis of this propaganda, Golden Dawn intervened in schools. It went petitioning. It went door to door and organised demonstrations. This was the way it built its electoral profile and recruited supporters.

The idea that immigration poses an economic threat is a political fiction (research shows that immigration is vital to Europe's economic functioning, even in times of job scarcity). However, failed immigration policies do have harmful human-rights consequences.

According to John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia program director, efforts to tighten immigration restrictions and militarize Europe's borders have, as in the United States, deepened the humanitarian crisis. “Rather than halting irregular migration, such policies reconfigure mobility flows and make migration routes more dangerous and difficult," he explains. "They also contribute to making smuggling a more lucrative business.” Across the EU, Dalhuisen adds, “There is an urgent need to reverse policies which criminalize migrants and address the wide-spread anti-immigration political rhetoric which contributes to making migrants unwelcome, if not the outright target of xenophobic attack.”

Once migrants make it into Europe, their systematic disenfranchisement enables severe labor exploitation that hurts all workers. Alexandre Afonso, a lecturer in politics at King’s College London, tells ITT via email that however political attitudes toward migrants may fluctuate, migration flows are essentially linked to demand for cheap labor. At the same time, improving labor conditions can help alleviate the erosion of jobs and wages and by extension help rebalance a global labor market rife with exploitation:

Since the politics of control is bound to be ineffective because migration flows de facto cannot be totally stopped, it seems that the only effective way is to ensure fair working and salary conditions for all, including migrants, through work standards compliance, enforced minimum wages, in order to prevent exploitation practices.

Though such reforms are more vital than ever, the gutted social infrastructure has left compassion in short supply. The epidemic abuse of migrants is a symptom of social degradation precipitated by austerity. One group of dispossessed falls into a spiral of racial invective and xenophobia aimed at another, instead of forming a collective uprising against the real threat: an elite that has bled civil society dry and left the poor to cannibalize themselves.

© 2013 In These Times

Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These Times, Colorlines.com, and Pacifica's WBAI. Her work has also appeared in Common Dreams, Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain.

The West’s Crisis is One of Democracy as Much as Finance

In one of the last interviews before his fall, Nicolae Ceausescu was asked by a western journalist how he justified the fact that Romanian citizens could not travel freely abroad although freedom of movement was guaranteed by the constitution. His answer was in the best tradition of Stalinist sophistry: true, the constitution guarantees freedom of movement, but it also guarantees the right to a safe, prosperous home. So we have here a potential conflict of rights: if Romanian citizens were to be allowed to leave the country, the prosperity of their homeland would be threatened. In this conflict, one has to make a choice, and the right to a prosperous, safe homeland enjoys clear priority …Nicolae Ceausescu addresses Romania's Communist party congress in November 1989, shortly before he was deposed and executed. (Photograph: Gerard Fouet/AFP)

It seems that this same spirit is alive and well in Slovenia today. Last month the constitutional court found that a referendum on legislation to set up a "bad bank" and a sovereign holding would be unconstitutional – in effect banning a popular vote on the matter. The referendum was proposed by trade unions challenging the government's neoliberal economic politics, and the proposal got enough signatures to make it obligatory.

The idea of the "bad bank" was of a place to transfer all bad credit from main banks, which would then be salvaged by state money (ie at taxpayers' expense), so preventing any serious inquiry into who was responsible for this bad credit in the first place. This measure, debated for months, was far from being generally accepted, even by financial specialists. So why prohibit the referendum? In 2011, when George Papandreou's government in Greece proposed a referendum on austerity measures, there was panic in Brussels, but even there no one dared to directly prohibit it.

According to the Slovenian constitutional court, the referendum "would have caused unconstitutional consequences". How? The court conceded a constitutional right to a referendum, but claimed that its execution would endanger other constitutional values that should be given priority in an economic crisis: the efficient functioning of the state apparatus, especially in creating conditions for economic growth; the realisation of human rights, especially the rights to social security and to free economic initiative.

In short, in assessing the consequences of the referendum, the court simply accepted as fact that failing to obey the dictates of international financial institutions (or to meet their expectations) can lead to political and economic crisis, and is thus unconstitutional. To put it bluntly: since meeting these dictates and expectations is the condition of maintaining the constitutional order, they have priority over the constitution (and eo ipso state sovereignty).

Slovenia may be a small country, but this decision is a symptom of a global tendency towards the limitation of democracy. The idea is that, in a complex economic situation like today's, the majority of the people are not qualified to decide – they are unaware of the catastrophic consequences that would ensue if their demands were to be met. This line of argument is not new. In a TV interview a couple of years ago, the sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf linked the growing distrust for democracy to the fact that, after every revolutionary change, the road to new prosperity leads through a "valley of tears". After the breakdown of socialism, one cannot directly pass to the abundance of a successful market economy: limited, but real, socialist welfare and security have to be dismantled, and these first steps are necessarily painful. The same goes for western Europe, where the passage from the post-second world war welfare state to new global economy involves painful renunciations, less security, less guaranteed social care. For Dahrendorf, the problem is encapsulated by the simple fact that this painful passage through the "valley of tears" lasts longer than the average period between elections, so that the temptation is great to postpone the difficult changes for the short-term electoral gains.

For him, the paradigm here is the disappointment of the large strata of post-communist nations with the economic results of the new democratic order: in the glorious days of 1989, they equated democracy with the abundance of western consumerist societies; and 20 years later, with the abundance still missing, they now blame democracy itself.

Unfortunately, Dahrendorf focuses much less on the opposite temptation: if the majority resist the necessary structural changes in the economy, would one of the logical conclusions not be that, for a decade or so, an enlightened elite should take power, even by non-democratic means, to enforce the necessary measures and thus lay the foundations for truly stable democracy?

Along these lines, the journalist Fareed Zakaria pointed out how democracy can only "catch on" in economically developed countries. If developing countries are "prematurely democratised", the result is a populism that ends in economic catastrophe and political despotism – no wonder that today's economically most successful third world countries (Taiwan, South Korea, Chile) embraced full democracy only after a period of authoritarian rule. And, furthermore, does this line of thinking not provide the best argument for the authoritarian regime in China?

What is new today is that, with the financial crisis that began in 2008, this same distrust of democracy – once constrained to the third world or post-communist developing countries – is gaining ground in the developed west itself: what was a decade or two ago patronising advice to others now concerns ourselves.

The least one can say is that this crisis offers proof that it is not the people but experts themselves who do not know what they are doing. In western Europe we are effectively witnessing a growing inability of the ruling elite – they know less and less how to rule. Look at how Europe is dealing with the Greek crisis: putting pressure on Greece to repay debts, but at the same time ruining its economy through imposed austerity measures and thereby making sure that the Greek debt will never be repaid.

At the end of October last year, the IMF itself released research showing that the economic damage from aggressive austerity measures may be as much as three times larger than previously assumed, thereby nullifying its own advice on austerity in the eurozone crisis. Now the IMF admits that forcing Greece and other debt-burdened countries to reduce their deficits too quickly would be counterproductive, but only after hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost because of such "miscalculations".

And therein resides the true message of the "irrational" popular protests all around Europe: the protesters know very well what they don't know; they don't pretend to have fast and easy answers; but what their instinct is telling them is nonetheless true – that those in power also don't know it. In Europe today, the blind are leading the blind.

New Study Shows Anti-Choice Policies Leading to Widespread Arrests of and Forced Interventions on...

On Tuesday, January 15th, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law will publish our study, “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health.” This study makes clear that post-Roe anti-choice and “pro-life” measures are being used to do more than limit access to abortion; they are providing the basis for arresting women, locking them up, and forcing them to submit to medical interventions, including surgery. The cases documented in our study through 2005, as well as more recent cases, make clear that 40 years after Roe v. Wade was decided, far more is at stake than abortion or women’s reproductive rights. Pregnant women face attacks on virtually every right associated with constitutional personhood, including the very basic right to physical liberty.  

Our study identified 413 criminal and civil cases involving the arrests, detentions, and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s physical liberty that occurred between 1973 (when Roe v. Wade was decided) and 2005. Because many cases are not reported publicly, we know that this is a substantial under count. Furthermore, new data collection indicates that at least 250 such interventions have taken place since 2005.

In almost all of the cases we identified, the arrests and other actions would not have happened but for the fact that the woman was pregnant at the time of the alleged violation of law. And, in almost every case we identified, the person who initiated the action had no direct legal authority for doing so. No state legislature has passed a law that holds women legally liable for the outcome of their pregnancies. No state legislature has passed a law making it a crime for a pregnant woman to continue her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug or alcohol problem. No state has passed a law exempting pregnant women from the protections of the state and federal constitution. And, under Roe v. Wade, abortion remains legal.

Yet, since 1973, many states have passed feticide measures and laws restricting access to safe abortion care that, like so-called “personhood” measures, encourage state actors to treat eggs, embryos, and fetuses as if they are legally separate from the pregnant woman. We found that these laws have been used as the basis for a disturbing range of punitive state actions in every region of the country and against women of every race, though disproportionately against women in the South, low-income women and African-American women.  

Women have been arrested while still pregnant, taken straight from the hospital in handcuffs, and sometimes shackled around the waist and at the ankles. Pregnant women have been held under house arrest and incarcerated in jails and prisons. Pregnant women have been held in locked psychiatric wards, as well as in hospitals and in drug treatment programs under 24-hour guard. They have been forced to undergo intimate medical exams and blood transfusions over their religious objections. Women have been forced to submit to cesarean surgery. They have been arrested shortly after giving birth while dressed only in hospital gowns. And, despite claims by some anti-choice activists that women themselves will not be arrested if abortion is re-criminalized, women who have ended their pregnancies and had abortions are already being arrested.  

Consider the following:

  • A woman in Utah gave birth to twins. When one was stillborn, she was arrested and charged with criminal homicide based on the claim that her decision to delay cesarean surgery was the cause of the stillbirth.
  • After a hearing that lasted less than a day, a court issued an order requiring a critically-ill pregnant woman in Washington, D.C. to undergo cesarean surgery over her objections. Neither she nor her baby survived.
  • A judge in Ohio kept a woman imprisoned to prevent her from having an abortion.
  • A woman in Oregon who did not comply with a doctor’s recommendation to have additional testing for gestational diabetes was subjected to involuntary civil commitment. During her detention, the additional testing was never performed.
  • A Louisiana woman was charged with murder and spent approximately a year in jail before her counsel was able to show that what was deemed a murder of a fetus or newborn was actually a miscarriage that resulted from medication given to her by a health care provider.
  • In Texas, a pregnant woman who sometimes smoked marijuana to ease nausea and boost her appetite gave birth to healthy twins.  She was arrested for delivery of a controlled substance to a minor.
  • A doctor in Wisconsin had concerns about a woman’s plans to have her birth attended by a midwife. As a result, a civil court order of protective custody for the woman’s fetus was obtained. The order authorized the sheriff’s department to take the woman into custody, transport her to a hospital, and subject her to involuntary testing and medical treatment.

As disturbing as our findings are, this study also provides a basis for building a shared public health and political agenda that includes all pregnant women. The current public debate overwhelmingly focuses on the issue of abortion and interference with one kind of right: the right to end an unwanted and untenable pregnancy. This study, however, confirms that if passed, so called “personhood” measures would: 1) provide the basis for arresting pregnant women who have abortions; and 2) provide state actors with the authority to subject all pregnant women to surveillance, arrest, incarceration, and other deprivations of liberty whether women seek to end a pregnancy or not.

Furthermore, the study demonstrates that there is no way to add fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses to state constitutions or to the United States Constitution without removing all pregnant women from the community of constitutional persons. These measures create a “Jane Crow” system of law, establishing a separate and unequal status for all pregnant women and disproportionately punishing African-American and low-income women.

For example, last week, a Tennessee woman who had been in a car accident was tested to see if she had been driving under the influence of alcohol. According to local press, her blood alcohol content was well below the legal limit. Nevertheless, because she told a police officer that she was four months pregnant, she was arrested and taken to jail. Tennessee apparently recognizes a special crime reserved just for pregnant women:  driving whilenot intoxicated.

We are confident that most people in the United States, regardless of their views on abortion, do not want to see pregnant women subjected to a separate and unequal system of law as a result of “pro-life” measures. To that end, we call for a culture of life that values all women, including those who give birth to that life, and recommend:

  • The rejection of “personhood” measures;
  • A moratorium on new feticide laws and a fair and open inquiry into whether such laws—passed with the promise of protecting pregnant women and fetuses—have actually reduced violence against pregnant women or rather increased legal surveillance of women;
  • That health care providers ensure that pregnant women are afforded the same confidentiality, respect, and dignity extended to other patients;
  • That lawmakers adopt policies that promote women’s health and remove barriers to family planning and contraceptive services, abortion services, birthing options, and effective and humane drug treatment, and address the stark racial and economic inequalities that are perpetuated by the United States war on drugs and our system of mass incarceration;

Finally, we call upon legislative authorities and others to affirm the personhood of pregnant women, ensuring that upon becoming pregnant and through all stages of pregnancy, labor, and delivery, women retain their civil and human rights.

Congo’s M23 Conflict: Rebellion or Resource War?

M23 rebels in DR Congo have threatened to march to the capital and depose the government. UN reports confirm that rebels receive support from key US allies in the region, and Washington’s role in the conflict has become difficult to ignore. Instability, lawlessness and violence are nothing new to those who live in the troubled eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An 

 Congolese have perished since 1996 in a spate of ceaseless military conflicts that have long gripped this severely-overlooked and underreported region. In late November 2012, members of the M23 rebel group invaded and took control of Goma, a strategic provincial capital in North Kivu state with a population of 1 million people, with the declared purpose of marching to the nation’s capital, Kinshasa, to depose the ruling government. M23′s president, Jean Marie Runiga, later agreed to withdraw only if the ruling President Joseph Kabila listened to the group’s grievances and adhered to their demands. Rebel leaders have threatened to abandon peace talks unless Kinshasa signs an official ceasefire, a demand the government dismissed as unnecessary.

Kinshasa called on M23 to respect previous agreements to withdraw 20km outside of Goma in a move to prevent the region falling back into war after two decades of conflict, fought largely over the DRC’s vast wealth of copper, cobalt diamonds, gold and coltan. The United Nation’s peacekeeping mission in DR Congo has come under fire for allowing M23 to take Goma without firing a single shot, despite the presence of 19,000 UN troops in the country. The UN’s Congo mission is its largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation, costing over US$1 billion a year. UN forces recently announced they would introduce the use of surveillance drones over the DRC, in addition to imposing a travel ban and asset freeze on M23 leader Jean-Marie Runiga and Lt. Col. Eric Badege. A confidential 44-page report issued by a United Nations panel accused the governments of neighboring Rwanda and Uganda of supporting M23 with weapons, ammunition and Rwandan military personnel. Despite both nations denying these accusations, the governments of the United States, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have publicly suspended military aid and developmental assistance to Rwanda. The governments of both Rwanda and Uganda, led by President Paul Kagame and President Yoweri Museveni respectively, have long been staunch American allies and the recipients of millions in military aid.

M23 President Jean-Marie Runiga (2nd R) arrives to address the media in Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.(Reuters / James Akena)

M23 President Jean-Marie Runiga (2nd R) arrives to address the media in Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.(Reuters / James Akena)

Historical precedent

The DRC has suffered immensely during its history of foreign plunder and colonial occupation; it maintains the second-lowest GDP per capita despite possessing an estimated $24 trillion in untapped raw minerals deposits. During the Congo Wars of the 1996 to 2003, the United States provided training and arms to Rwandan and Ugandan militias who later invaded the Congo’s eastern provinces where M23 are currently active. In addition to enriching various Western multinational corporations, the regimes of Kagame in Rwanda and Museveni in Uganda both profited immensely from the plunder of Congolese conflict minerals such as cassiterite, wolframite, coltan (from which niobium and tantalum are derived) and gold; the DRC holds more than 30 per cent of the world’s diamond reserves and 80 per cent of the world’s coltan.

In 1990, civil war raged between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups in neighboring Rwanda; Washington sought to overthrow the 20-year reign of then-President Juvénal Habyarimana (a Hutu) by installing a Tutsi client regime. At the time, prior to the outbreak of the Rwandan civil war, the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), led by the current president, was part of Uganda’s United People’s Defense Forces (UPDF). Kagame, who received training at the US Army Command and Staff College in Leavenworth, Kansas, invaded Rwanda in 1990 from Uganda under the pretext of liberating the Tutsi population from Hutu subjugation. Kagame’s forces defeated the Hutu government in Kigali and installed himself as head of a minority Tutsi regime in Rwanda, prompting the exodus of 2 million Hutu refugees (many of whom took part in the genocide) to UN-run camps in Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces.

Following Kagame’s consolidation of power in Rwanda, a large invasion force of Rwandan Tutsis arrived in North and South Kivu in 1996 under the pretext of pursuing Hutu militant groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Under the banner of safeguarding Rwandan national security, troops from Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi invaded Congo and ripped through Hutu refugee camps, slaughtering thousands of Rwandan and Congolese Hutu civilians, including many women and children. US Special Forces trained Rwandan and Ugandan troops at Fort Bragg in the United States and supported Congolese rebels, who brought down Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko – they claimed he was giving refuge to the leaders of the genocide.

After deposing Mobutu and seizing control in Kinshasa, a new regime led by Laurent Kabila, father of the current president, was installed. Kabila was quickly regarded as an equally despotic leader, eradicating all opposition to his rule; he turned away from his Rwandan backers and called on Congolese civilians to violently purge the nation of Rwandans, prompting Rwandan forces to regroup in Goma. Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001 at the hands of a member of his security staff, allowing his son, Joseph, to usurp the presidency. The younger Kabila derives his legitimacy from the support of foreign heads of state and the international business community, primarily for his ability to comply with foreign plunder.

During the Congo’s general elections in November 2011, the international community and the UN remained silent regarding the mass irregularities observed by the electoral committee. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has faced frequent allegations of corruption, prompting opposition leader Étienne Tshisikedi, who is currently under house arrest, to call for the UN mission to end its deliberate efforts to maintain the system of international plundering and to appoint someone “less corrupt and more credible” to head UN operations. MONUSCO has been plagued with frequent cases of peacekeeping troops caught smuggling minerals such as cassiterite and dealing weapons to militia groups. Kabila is seen by many to be self-serving in his weak oversight of the central government in Kinshasa. M23 rebels have demanded the liberation of all political prisoners, including opposition leader Étienne Tshisikedi, and the dissolution of the current electoral commission that was in charge 2011’s elections, widely perceived to be fraudulent.

Displaced civilians from Walikale arrive at Magunga III camp outside of the eastern Congolese city of Goma.(Reuters / Alissa Everett)

Displaced civilians from Walikale arrive at Magunga III camp outside of the eastern Congolese city of Goma.(Reuters / Alissa Everett)

Role of US in Rwanda’s M23 backing

M23, or The March 23 Movement, takes its name from peace accords held on March 23, 2009, which allowed members of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), an earlier incarnation of today’s M23, to integrate into the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and be recognized as an official political party. The CNDP was an entirely Rwandan creation, and was led by figures such as Bosco Ntaganda. In accordance to the deal reached in 2009, the Congolese government agreed to integrate 6,000 CNDP combatants into the FARDC, giving Ntaganda, a Rwandan Tutsi and former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army, a senior position in the integrated force. The current M23 offensive began in April 2012, when around 300 former CNDP personnel led by Ntaganda defected from FARDC, citing poor working conditions and the government’s unwillingness to meaningfully implement the 23 March 2009 peace deal.

According to UN reports, Ntaganda controls several mining operations in the region and has derived enormous profits from mineral exploitation in eastern Congo, in addition to gaining large revenues from taxation levied by Rwandan-backed “mining police.” Bosco Ntaganda appears to be assisting Rwanda’s Tutsi government in plundering eastern Congo’s natural resources, which has gone on since Kagame came to power in 1994; M23 is basically paid for with the money from tin, tungsten and tantalum smuggled from Congolese mines. UN reports detail Rwanda’s deep involvement by even naming Rwandan personnel involved; Ntaganda takes direct military orders from Rwandan Chief of Defense Staff General Charles Kayonga, who in turn acts on instructions from Minster of Defense General James Kabarebe. Both Britain and France reportedly found the UN report to be “credible and compelling.”

Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, finds herself mired in scandal yet again; Rice has come under fire for suppressing information on Rwanda’s role in the ongoing resource looting and rebellion in eastern Congo. Rice delayed the publication of a UN Group of Experts report detailing Rwandan and Ugandan depredations in Congo, while simultaneously subverting efforts within the State Department to rein in Kagame and Museveni. Rice, in her role as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in 1997 under the Clinton administration, tacitly approved Rwanda and Uganda’s invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo and was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “…they [Kagame & Museveni] know how to deal with that, the only thing we have to do is look the other way.” Another article published in the New York Times by Helen Cooper detailed Rice’s business connections to the Rwandan government:

“Ms. Rice has been at the forefront of trying to shield the Rwandan government, and Mr. Kagame in particular, from international censure, even as several United Nations reports have laid the blame for the violence in Congo at Mr. Kagame’s door… Aides to Ms. Rice acknowledge that she is close to Mr. Kagame and that Mr. Kagame’s government was her client when she worked at Intellibridge, a strategic analysis firm in Washington… After delaying for weeks the publication of a United Nations report denouncing Rwanda’s support for the M23 and opposing any direct references to Rwanda in United Nations statements and resolutions on the crisis, Ms. Rice intervened to water down a Security Council resolution that strongly condemned the M23 for widespread rape, summary executions and recruitment of child soldiers. The resolution expressed ‘deep concern’ about external actors supporting the M23. But Ms. Rice prevailed in preventing the resolution from explicitly naming Rwanda when it was passed on Nov. 20.”

M23 rebel fighters walk as they withdraw near the town of Sake, some 42 km (26 miles) west of Goma.(Reuters / Goran Tomasevic)

M23 rebel fighters walk as they withdraw near the town of Sake, some 42 km (26 miles) west of Goma.(Reuters / Goran Tomasevic)

Geopolitics of plunder

It must be recognized that Kagame controls a vastly wealthy and mineral-rich area of eastern Congo – an area that has long been integrated into Rwanda’s economy – with total complicity from the United States. As Washington prepares to escalate its military presence throughout the African continent with AFRICOM, the United States Africa Command, what long-term objectives does Uncle Sam have in the Congo, considered the world’s most resource-rich nation? Washington is crusading against China’s export restrictions on minerals that are crucial components in the production of consumer electronics such as flat-screen televisions, smart phones, laptop batteries, and a host of other products. The US sees these Chinese export policies as a means of Beijing attempting to monopolize the mineral and rare earth market.

In a 2010 white paper entitled “Critical Raw Materials for the EU,” the European Commission cites the immediate need for reserve supplies of tantalum, cobalt, niobium, and tungsten among others; the US Department of Energy 2010 white paper “Critical Mineral Strategy” also acknowledged the strategic importance of these key components. In 1980, Pentagon documents acknowledged shortages of cobalt, titanium, chromium, tantalum, beryllium, and nickel. The US Congressional Budget Office’s 1982 report “Cobalt: Policy Options for a Strategic Mineral” notes that cobalt alloys are critical to the aerospace and weapons industries and that 64 per cent of the world’s cobalt reserves lay in the Katanga Copper Belt, running from southeastern Congo into northern Zambia.

Additionally, the sole piece of legislation authored by President Obama during his time as a Senator was SB 2125, the“Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006”. In the legislation, Obama acknowledges Congo as a long-term interest to the United States and further alludes to the threat of Hutu militias as an apparent pretext for continued interference in the region; Section 201(6) of the bill specifically calls for the protection of natural resources in the eastern DRC. The United States does not like the fact that President Kabila in Kinshasa has become very comfortable with Beijing, and worries that Congo will drift into Chinese economic orbit. Under the current regime in Congo, Chinese commercial activities have significantly increased not only in the mining sector, but also considerably in the telecommunications field.

In 2000, the Chinese ZTE Corporation finalized a $12.6 million deal with the Congolese government to establish the first Sino-Congolese telecommunications company; furthermore, the DRC exported $1.4 billion worth of cobalt between 2007 and 2008. The majority of Congolese raw materials like cobalt, copper ore and a variety of hardwoodsare exported to China for further processing and 90 per cent of the processing plants in resource rich southeastern Katanga province are owned by Chinese nationals. In 2008, a consortium of Chinese companies were granted the rights to mining operations in Katanga in exchange for US$6 billion in infrastructure investments, including the construction of two hospitals, four universities and a hydroelectric power project. In 2009, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) demanded renegotiation of the deal, arguing that the agreement between China and the DRC violated the foreign debt relief program for so-called HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) nations. The IMF successfully blocked the deal in May 2009, calling for a more feasibility study of the DRCs mineral concessions. An article published by Shamus Cooke of Workers Action explains:

“This act instantly transformed Kabila from an unreliable friend to an enemy. The US and China have been madly scrambling for Africa’s immense wealth of raw materials, and Kabila’s new alliance with China was too much for the US to bear. Kabila further inflamed his former allies by demanding that the international corporations exploiting the Congo’s precious metals have their super-profit contracts re-negotiated, so that the country might actually receive some benefit from its riches.”

During a diplomatic tour of Africa in 2011, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton herself has irresponsibly insinuatedChina’s guilt in perpetuating a creeping “new colonialism.” China annually invests an estimated $5.5 billion in Africa, with only 29 per cent of direct investment in the mining sector in 2009 – while more than half was directed toward domestic manufacturing, finance, and construction industries. China has further committed $10 billion in concessional loans to Africa between 2009 and 2012. As Africa’s largest trading partner, China imports 1.5 million barrels of oil from Africa per day, accounting for approximately 30 per cent of its total imports. Over the past decade, 750,000 Chinese nationals have settled in Africa; China’s deepening economic engagement in Africa and its crucial role in developing the mineral sector, telecommunications industry and much needed infrastructural projects is creating “deep nervousness” in the West, according to David Shinn, the former US ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia.

Too big to fail, or too big to succeed?

In December 2012, Dr J Peter Pham published a bizarre Op-Ed in the New York Times titled, “To Save Congo, Let It Fall Apart.” Pham is the director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center and is a frequent guest lecturer on the US Army War College, the Joint Special Operations University, and other US Government affiliated educational institutions; he is a Washington insider, and understanding his rationale is important, as his opinion may very well shape US policy in Congo. Pham argues that Congo is an “artificial entity” that is “too big to succeed,” and therefore, the policy direction taken by the US should be one of promoting balkanization:

“Rather than nation-building, what is needed to end Congo’s violence is the opposite: breaking up a chronically failed state into smaller organic units whose members share broad agreement or at least have common interests in personal and community security… If Congo were permitted to break up into smaller entities, the international community could devote its increasingly scarce resources to humanitarian relief and development, rather than trying, as the United Nations Security Council has pledged, to preserve the ‘sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity’ of a fictional state that is of value only to the political elites who have clawed their way to the top in order to plunder Congo’s resources and fund the patronage networks that ensure that they will remain in power.”

What Pham is suggesting is policy to bring out the collapse of the Congolese nation by creating tiny ethno-nationalist entities too small to stand up to multinational corporations. The success of M23 must surely have shaken President Kabila, whose father came to power with the backing of the Ugandan and Rwandan regimes in 1996, employing the same strategies that M23 is using today. If Kabila wants to stay in power, he needs the capability of exercising authority over the entire country. Sanctions should be imposed on top-level Rwandan and Ugandan officials and all military aid should be withheld; additionally, Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame should be investigated and removed from his position. Kambale Musavuli, of the Washington DC-based NGO, Friends of Congo, has it right when he says:

“People need to be clear who we are fighting in the Congo… We are fighting Western powers, the United States and the United Kingdom, who are arming, training and equipping the Rwandan and Ugandan militaries.”

M23 military leader General Sultani Makenga attend press conference in Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.(Reuters / James Akena)

M23 military leader General Sultani Makenga attend press conference in Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.(Reuters / James Akena)

Nile Bowie is an independent political commentator and photographer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be reached at nilebowie@gmail.com 

BA Employee Nadia Eweida Wins Cross Case

Nadia Eweida - who claimed she suffered religious discrimination at work - has won a landmark legal battle at a European court. But three other Christian claimants, who launched similar action, lost their cases at the European Court of Human Rights (E...

Victory for Indonesian Workers After News of Nike Thugs Spread

Indonesian factory workers claimed a small victory on Tuesday after news spread that suppliers for international sportswear behemouth Nike paid local military personnel to intimidate them into agreeing to below minimum wage pay.

(Image via developeconomies.com) Workers at the Nike shoe factory in the west Java city of Sukabumi will now be paid a higher minimum wage after reporting that they were bullied into signing a petition saying that they supported the factory's claim to be exempt from the recent wage increase.

After news of the harrassment leaked, the Jakarta Globe is reporting that the factory has revoked their application for exemption.

Three labor rights groups— US-based Educating for Justice (EFJ), the Alliance for Labor Unions in Indonesia (MPBI) and the Trade Union Rights Center—revealed on Monday the findings of a recent investigation into several Nike factories that were seeking wage exemptions.

ABC Australia reports:

In mobile phone footage of the factory, shown to ABC, a man standing over workers can be heard telling them, "you all have to sign it".

The woman who took the footage does not want to be named, but says she and other workers tried to reject the pay restriction.

"We got summoned by military personnel that the company hired to interrogate us and they intimidated us," she said.

"The first thing that scared me was his high tone of voice and he banged the table.

"And also he said that inside the factory there were a lot of military intelligence officers. That scared me."

Additionally, EFJ director Jim Keady reports that trade union officials at the factory were deceived into signing the agreement when a meeting's sign-in sheet was “fraudulently attached to a document that stated the signatories agree to the factory management’s requests to be exempt from the new minimum wage.”

"Nike unfortunately exercises imperialist values—values that run counter to the commitments to democracy and human rights," Keady said.

Indonesian workers won a 44 percent minimum wage raise to 2.2 million rupiah ($228) a month after millions of workers striked this fall over low pay and cost of living increases; the pay increase in Jakarta was supposed to be made effective January 1.

According to the Surya Tjandra, director of Indonesia's Trade Union Rights Center, at least six Nike-contracted factories had applied for an exemption to the recent pay increase, allowing employees to be paid $3.70 a day instead of $4.

"You have to provide financial conditions of the company in the last two years which show some not profit, and then you have to accept some consent from the workers directly, which is not that easy because for the workers, the new wages is [sic] actually better and fairer," he said.

Of Tuesday's news that the Sukabumi factory was retracting their bid for exemption, Keady said:

I’m very happy for the workers in the factory. They are getting the justice they deserve.

Now we have to move forward case by case, factory by factory and make sure that in all 40 [Indonesian] Nike factories, the 171,000 workers get what they deserve.

So far, the investigative team has only looked into shoe manufacturing plants, but they suspect the majority of Nike apparel factories will also be trying to avoid paying the new minimum wage.

Gay Marriage Poses ‘Real Threat’ To Teachers’ Religious Freedom, Claims Tory MP

Same-sex marriage poses a "real threat" to the freedoms of teachers with traditionalist views, a Tory MP has warned. David Burrowes said classrooms would be subjected to a "new state orthodoxy" where teachers who opposed gay weddings would be gagged f...

Crucifix Battle: British Airways to pay 32,000 euro after sacking woman for wearing cross

British Airways employee Nadia Eweida holds her crucifix as she poses for a picture in central London on January 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Carl Court)

British Airways employee Nadia Eweida holds her crucifix as she poses for a picture in central London on January 15, 2013.(AFP Photo / Carl Court)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that British Airways violated an employee’s right to freedom of religion by firing her for wearing a crucifix at work. The Strasbourg court awarded the Coptic Christian 32,000 euros in compensation.

­“The domestic authorities failed sufficiently to protect the first applicant’s right to manifest her religion, in breach of the positive obligation under article 9,” the ECHR said in a majority ruling, citing Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Nadia Eweida, a practicing Coptic Christian, was awarded €2,000 ($2,665) in compensation by the court after it ruled against an earlier decision by UK courts. A further €30,000 (almost $40,000) was awarded in legal costs. The British Airways check-in clerk was asked to leave her job in 2006 after refusing to remove her crucifix.

A UK employment tribunal ruled that Eweida had not been subjected to religious discrimination. However, by the time the court made its ruling, British Airways had already changed its uniform code on visible items of jewelry to allow symbols of faith to be worn.

The fact that the company was able to amend the uniform code to allow for the visible wearing of religious symbolic jewelry demonstrates that the earlier prohibition was not of crucial importance,” the judges said in a comment on British Airways’ police change.

The ECHR ruling said the British court had failed to balance the competing issues in Eweida’s case. While the employer wished to protect a certain corporate image, Eweida desired to display her religious beliefs. Though British Airways had a legitimate motive, “the domestic courts accorded it too much weight,” the ECHR’s judgment said.  

With Eweida’s case as precedent, Strasbourg was not quite so benevolent to another complainant.

Shirley Chaplain, a nurse from Exeter, was transferred to a desk job by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust for refusing to remove a confirmation crucifix she had worn for 30 years. Though the case appears to be almost identical to Eweida’s, the judges ruled unanimously that the British courts had resolved Chaplain’s issue fairly.

The ECHR judges ruled that the request by the hospital authorities to remove the cross for reasons of health and safety to prevent the spread of infections “was inherently more important,” and that the hospital was “well placed to make decisions about clinical safety.

UK Prime Minster David Cameron said he was “delighted” by the ECHR’s ruling, and that the “principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld.”   

But Keith Porteous-Wood of the National Secular Society said the idea of a ban on wearing crosses was “absolutely risible,” because hundreds of thousands of people around the UK wear crosses “with no problem at all.

Porteous-Wood said he was delighted with the ruling because “we don’t want to see a hierarchy of rights with religion at the top.

Turtles and Tomahawk Missiles, Together at Last? War is Not the Answer to Climate...

Two Soldiers with 2-8 Cav., 1BCT, 1st Cav. Div., reach the turnaround point, June 25, on the battalion’s 12 mile road march portion of the Iron Warrior Stakes competition. (Photo: Spc. Kim Browne / US Army)The tendency to invoke a national security framework in discussions of climate change can lead to misguided and opportunistic policies centered on greenwashed imperialism.

Over the past few years a handful of liberal environmentalists, pundits and scientists have been co-opting the language and methods of the National Security State in order to declare a "War on Climate Change."

A number of recent articles on the topic illustrate just how far militarism has coiled its way around climate change politics. A recent blog post by Joe Romm, an editor at Climate Progress, noted President Obama's likely (and now actual) nomination of Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) as secretary of state. The article described Kerry as a "climate hawk" who "believes that climate change is the 'biggest long term threat' to national security."

Then there is the blog Climate Code Red, which published "Scientists call for war on climate change, but who on earth is listening?" on December 7, 2012. The magazine New Scientist, in a November 2, 2012 editorial: "The US military is a useful ally on climate change," it exclaimed. "Letting the military lead the way might be the best way to build a new energy economy." The editorial lauds the Pentagon's ability to generate research dollars, and as a result develop new markets for new technologies." Greens, too, should support the man oeuvre ... when you've got a war to fight, it helps to have the big boys on your side."

And three days after the New Scientist editorial, Boston Globe columnist Juliette Kayyem wrote, "After Sandy, environmentalists, military find common cause," adding to the chorus of voices singing the praises of the National Security State's interest and involvement in climate change.

Kayyem, coincidentally a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, wrote, "War might be an entirely accurate - and now even more appropriate - word to describe the urgency of the effort to curb climate change ... because climate change poses a continuing and unpredictable threat to national and global security." The Pentagon first ranked climate change as a national security threat in 2010, and in November 2012 the National Academy of Sciences sounded alarms in a report that noted "the security establishment is going to have to start planning for natural disasters, sea-level rise, drought, epidemics and the other consequences of climate change." However, the Boston Globe's Kayyem does point out that the Pentagon's involvement is not driven by altruistic humanitarian or ecological concern, but rather US geopolitical interests, such as the potential threat to US military bases around the globe as a result of a rise in sea-level.

The latest war metaphor was coined by Grist staff writer David Roberts in an October 2010 column, "Introducing 'climate hawks'." Roberts says he wanted a new label to define a new subset of people concerned with climate change and clean energy. For Roberts, traditional environmentalists should not be leading the discussion on climate change. No, Roberts wanted to create a name that could bring people together from the usually opposed corporate, military and activist communities. He asked his readers for ideas, although "climate hawk" ended up being proposed by one of his colleagues at Grist. Roberts explains why he liked the term:

First and foremost, it doesn't carry any implications about The Truth. It doesn't say, 'I'm right, you're wrong. I'm smarter and more enlightened than you.' Instead it evokes a judgment: that the risks of climate change are sufficient to warrant a robust response.... It becomes about values, about how hard to fight and how much to sacrifice to defend America and her future.... The health of Mother Earth just doesn't move that many people. For better or worse, more Americans respond to evocations of toughness in the face of a threat. In foreign policy a hawk is someone who, as Donald Rumsfeld used to put it, 'leans forward,' someone who's not afraid to flex America's considerable muscle, someone who takes a proactive attitude toward gathering dangers.

Climate Progress's Romm chose "Climate Hawk" as their phrase of the year in 2010. But the term has been gaining ground. More recently, after November's election, it was used in a headline by Mother Jones,"Five Climate Hawks Who Won Tuesday", demonstrating that the term is finding its way into mainstream environmental vernacular.

A "climate hawk" flexes muscles, fights and - most importantly - defends America. The term and the reasoning co-opt the language and logic of masculinity, militarism and nationalism, and thus perpetuate a cultural ailment that afflicts US society and how it approaches national and international dilemmas (think War on Drugs, War on Terror, etc.)"Any term one chooses to describe a movement will be more inviting to some and more alienating to others," said Robert Jensen, a professor of journalism at University of Texas at Austin's College of Communication. "Someone like me, who has been a harsh critic of US militarism and imperialism and an advocate for radical change to deal with climate, doesn't care what a movement is called, because the work goes on."

According to George Lakoff, Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, the use of the term "climate hawk" and using national security within a climate frame are ambiguous and open to interpretations. He believes that a term like "climate hawk" and the nexus between climate change and national security are being used by some with the intention of instilling the urgency of the situation to our health as a nation and the need for aggressive policy and action. "Resorting to turning climate policy over to the Defense Department is certainly a failure," said Lakoff, of a possible misinterpretation. "I don't think that is what either Romm or Kerry has in mind."

However, in its militarism, the term can alienate women, who are often on the front lines of climate struggle. "Many would argue that a culture of militarized nationalism is firmly established in the US, and that patriarchy directly relates to this culture. Patriarchy marginalizes that which is associated with femininity while privileging masculinity," said Nicole Detraz, assistant professor of political science at the University of Memphis. "Societal depictions of women as caregivers or mothers, and men as leaders or fighters establish men as the 'most appropriate' actors to take care of the real world of security."

Militarism has been creeping into the mainstream environmental movement for years. On December 4, 2012, The World Wildlife Federation announced it would use drones to track poachers in Africa, thanks to a $5 million grant from Google. Al Jazeera correspondent Eddie Walsh examined the global implications of non-state actors engaging in drone surveillance and other international security activities. Private military security contractors operating largely with impunity in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict zones already have brought similar issues to light.

"I strongly believe militarism stands in the way of achieving progress on climate change," said Betsy Hartmann, director of the population and development program and professor of development studies at Hampshire College, who currently focuses on the militarization of climate change in her research and writing. "Linking climate change and national security is a dangerous road to go down."

First "climate hawks," now "enviro-drones." While climate change does have the capacity to cause destabilization in areas of the world, as well as become an existential threat for many, looking at this through a national security framework divides the world between us and them, while reinforcing the dangerous notion of American exceptionalism. "Using this language suggests that there are no solutions, so we have to fight," added Hartmann.

Unfortunately, this is a road we have been traveling down for some time now, and adopting foreign policy discourse and tools exacerbates this troubling tendency.

According to Detraz, whose research critically examines the environment, security and gender, the trend of "utilizing security discourse" for national and international problems dates back to the Cold War. "There is typically a perception that security issues garner a great deal of attention and resources, and that framing environmental issues as security issues can tap into this," said Detraz. "For these reasons, environmentalists who want to raise awareness of climate change may use concepts/terms like climate security, the insecurity of energy dependence, or environmental conflict."

In a 2009 editorial, The New York Times advocated securitizing environmental discourse. Lamenting Congress's failure to pass legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, it argued in an editorial, "The Climate and National Security," that, "Proponents of climate change legislation have now settled on a new strategy: Warning that global warming poses a serious threat to national security," and that it was "pretty good politics" because "many politicians will do anything for the Pentagon." Hampshire's Hartmann said that this strategic decision by mainstream environmentalists is a testament to the power of the fossil fuel industry and climate denial in this country.

Also in 2009, the CIA opened the Center on Climate Change and National Security. But when a historian at the National Security Archived sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the CIA for copies of its reports on climate change the request was denied because the agency said the information was classified. Another example of the "benefits" of the CIA's partnership with climate change activists comes courtesy of WikiLeaks. The US State Department, acting at the behest of the CIA, sent out a directive "seeking human intelligence on UN diplomats," as well as "compromising intelligence on the officials running the climate negotiations" to undermine and manipulate the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, as the Guardian reported in two separate articles on Dec. 3, 2010.

The Obama Administration ended up closing the CIA's center on climate change in November 2012. "The goal of the intelligence apparatus is to help make Americans safer and more secure," Romm, also a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told Public Radio International's (PRI) program, "Living on Earth" on December 6, 2012. "And, since global warming is clearly a growing threat to our security, both directly and through how it affects countries that we have an interest in, we need to focus the CIA's and the Pentagon's thinkers on climate change."

Do we? Professor Detraz argues that if actors adopt a relatively narrow, environmental conflict discourse we are likely to get policies that are narrowly focused on protecting and enhancing state security.

An October 2011 report prepared by the Defense Science Board, which advises the secretary of defense, supports Detraz's argument. "The United States, however, has neither the knowledge nor the resources needed to produce widespread amelioration. US resources must be focused on the most serious US national risks," it reads. The report, which pays particular attention to Africa, also pointed out, "In some instances, climate change will serve as a threat multiplier, exacerbating tensions between tribes, ethnic groups and nations. In other cases, [it] will seem more like Mother Nature's weapon of mass destruction."

"It's dangerous that some liberal environmentalists bought into this climate conflict narrative about poor people of color becoming violent when climate change makes resources scarce. This narrative draws on deep-seated stereotypes of Africans in particular as savages and barbarians, incapable of technological and institutional innovation or cooperation," said Hartmann. "The media loves this stuff because fear sells in this country, especially racialized fears of poor people. The tragedy is that this approach works against the kind of international solidarity we need to build popular, democratic and effective solutions to climate change."

There have been other national security climate change projections of regional destabilizations caused by famine, droughts, subsequent migration flows, as well as wars fought over resources. This also calls into question the term "climate refugees," a depoliticized term that minimizes or fails to consider the socioeconomic factors and institutionalized structures of racism and oppression that make certain populations more vulnerable to environmental instability.

"One of the strongest critiques of environmental security discourses [is] that they result in othering populations, many of whom are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change impacts. It is true that when institutions from the global North have discussed climate migrants they have tended to assume that it is a problem of people from Southern states entering their borders," according to Detraz.

This can lead racist, xenophobic backlashes by both state actors and right-wing movements. "I advocate using narratives that highlight the human security threats that stem from environmental degradation, and the economic, social, and political vulnerabilities that make environmental insecurity a very real experience for millions of people," she added.

As the Defense Science Board points out, it is not about stopping or reversing climate change, but rather the focus is about mitigating and adapting to projected crises that threaten US national security interests. And we shouldn't fool ourselves. These interests are guided by maintaining US global hegemony and unfettered access to the world's resources, not empathy, human rights or environmental sustainability. Accepting and perpetuating the narrative of climate security, and by talking about climate change through a national security framework, opens doors for the national security state to execute its imperial tools, with a new imperial alibi: a new, green humanitarian imperialism, with some NGO's, International Financial Institutions, and academics serving as accessories. This is another method of preserving the global world order and Western-based notions of development.

For instance, the Pentagon's enlisting of academics in its war efforts has stirred controversy in the recent past with university anthropologists helping the war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and University of Kansas geographers mapping indigenous land in Oaxaca, Mexico. The Scientific American reported in March 2012 in an article, "US Defense Department Develops Map of Future Climate Chaos" that University of Texas researchers, courtesy of a 5-year $7.6 million defense department grant, will be creating maps to show "where vulnerability to climate change and violent conflicts intersects throughout the African continent." The US has expanded military operations in recent years with the creation of AFRICOM, something viewed as driven by "resource exploitation and imperial expansion," and announced in December that it will be increasing troops and drones for 2013. The continent is in the midst of a natural resource boom, and China's growing presence in the continent's resource markets has bothered Washington and is perceived as challenging US hegemony in the region.

Also lurking in the dark imaginations of Pentagon planners could be something akin to regional military climate change operations - think Plan Colombia for climate change, and how the War on Drugs is not exclusively about stopping or controlling drug trafficking or consumption.

Guatemala has already provided an example of so-called environmental security. In 2010, then-president of Guatemala Alvaro Colom created a "green battalion" allegedly to protect Laguna del Tigre National Park Maya Biosphere Reserve in the department of Petén. But the creation of the battalion was the result of an agreement with French oil company Perenco. According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, "Colom said oil drilling is not the cause of environmental damage in that region and instead put the blame on land invasions by small farmers and cattle raising." Indeed, this prediction seems to be coming true. "Some of these soldiers have taken part in forced evictions of communities living inside the park and are currently responsible for what amounts to a state of siege for those still living inside. Not only are the 25 to 30 communities inside the park forbidden from cutting a tree without a permit, they are under constant pressure from soldiers and armed park rangers," wrote journalist Dawn Paley, writing for Briarpatch magazine in July 2012. In the US we've seen private mercenary company Blackwater called upon for security in response to natural disaster Hurricane Katrina, while BP hired private security contractors in 2010 to keep reporters away from the beaches after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf Coast.

It is sad that a national discussion on climate change that points to facts, science, solidarity and peaceful democratic measures has been lost on some people and deemed ineffective. Nevertheless, Lakoff, who is the author of Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, a book widely believed to have influenced the Democratic Party and progressive organizations, points out that, "Peace, justice, and equality have been tried and don't even motivate liberals, despite their truth." But the voices that apply these principles risk being excluded from the conversation as a militaristic, fear-mongering framework gains more traction. It is important to examine the cultural pathologies that have taken us down this "dangerous road."

"Human beings have always had a capacity for violence, but not all societies are pathological in their glorification of violence. I believe the root of this pathology is patriarchy, the foundational hierarchy of men over women," said the University of Texas's Jensen. "The domination-subordination dynamic at the heart of patriarchy defines our world, including our conceptions of nation, of racial identity, of wealth accumulation."

This also currently defines our relationship with nature, which in modern times has been driven by accumulation and domination. Responses guided by this pathos, whether it is through militarism or scientific "panaceas," such as genetically modifying agriculture or geoengineering, further illustrate this mentality.

So where do we begin?

"We start by recognizing that the story of progress, technological solutions and endless bounty are a fantasy. We face the fact that the human species is now facing an end to the endless expansion of the fossil fuel era and a permanent contraction," said Jensen. "We start by growing up."

War in Libya Was Called “Success,” But Now Here We Are Engaging with the...

No scrutiny, no build-up, no parliamentary vote, not even a softening-up exercise. Britain is now involved in yet another military conflict in a Muslim land, or so we have been informed. British aircraft are flying to Mali while France bombs the country, arguing that Islamist militia must be driven back to save Europe from the creation of a “terrorist state”. Amnesty International and West Africa experts warned of the potential disaster of foreign military intervention; the bombs raining on the Malian towns of Konna, Léré and Douentza suggest they have been definitively ignored.

Mali’s current agony has only just emerged in our headlines, but the roots go back generations. Like the other Western colonial powers that invaded and conquered Africa from the 19th century onwards, France used tactics of divide-and-rule in Mali, leading to entrenched bitterness between the nomadic Tuareg people – the base of the current revolt – and other communities in Mali.Soldiers preparing a French jet at the Saint Dizier airbase in eastern France on Sunday. French fighter jets bombed rebel targets in a major city in Mali's north Sunday. (Photo: Laure-Anne Maucorps/French Army/AP)

To some Westerners, this is a distant past to be ignored, moved on from, and certainly not used to preclude noble interventions; but the consequences are still being felt on a daily basis. Initially, the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, suggested its colonial legacy ruled out a France-led intervention; its sudden involvement is far more rapid than expected.

But this intervention is itself the consequence of another. The Libyan war is frequently touted as a success story for liberal interventionism. Yet the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship had consequences that Western intelligence services probably never even bothered to imagine. Tuaregs – who traditionally hailed from northern Mali – made up a large portion of his army. When Gaddafi was ejected from power, they returned to their homeland: sometimes forcibly so as black Africans came under attack in post-Gaddafi Libya, an uncomfortable fact largely ignored by the Western media.

Awash with weapons from Libya’s own turmoil, armed Tuaregs saw an opening for their long-standing dream for national self-determination. As the rebellion spread, the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré was deposed in a military coup and – despite allowing a transitional civilian-led government to take power – the army retains its dominance.

There can certainly be no sympathy for the militia now fighting the Malian  government. Originally, it was the secular  nationalists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad who led the uprising; they have now been pushed aside by Islamist jihadists with a speed that has shocked foreign analysts. Rather than achieving an independent Tuareg state, they have far more sweeping ambitions, linking up with similar groups based in northern Nigeria. Amnesty International reports horrendous atrocities: amputations, sexual violence, the use of child soldiers, and rampant extra-judicial executions.

But don’t fall for a narrative so often pushed by the Western media: a perverse oversimplification of good fighting evil, just as we have seen imposed on Syria’s brutal civil war. Amnesty reports brutality on the part of Malian government forces, too. When the conflict originally exploded, Tuaregs were arrested, tortured, bombed and killed by the security forces, “apparently only on ethnic grounds”, Amnesty says. Last July, 80 inmates arrested by the army were stripped to their underwear, jammed into a 5sqm cell; cigarettes were burnt into their bodies; and they were forced to sodomise each other. Back in September 2012, 16 Muslim preachers belonging to the Dawa group were rounded up at a checkpoint and summarily executed by the army. These are acts committed by those who are now our allies.

When the UN Security Council unanimously paved the way for military force to be used at some point last month, experts made clear warnings that must still be listened to. The International Crisis Group urged a focus on a diplomatic solution to restore stability, arguing that intervention could exacerbate a growing inter-ethnic conflict. Amnesty warned that “an international armed intervention is likely to increase the scale of human-rights violations we are already seeing in this conflict”. Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University, has argued that past wars show that “once started, they can take alarming directions, have very destructive results, and often enhance the very movements they are designed to counter”.

It is conceivable that this intervention could – for a time – achieve its goals of pushing back the Islamist militias, and shore up Mali’s government. But the Libyan war was seen as a success, too; and here we are now engaging with its catastrophic blowback. In Afghanistan, Western forces remain engaged in a never-ending war which has already helped destabilised Pakistan, leading to drone attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians and unleashed further chaos. The price of Western interventions may often be ignored by our media, but it is still paid nonetheless.

Western intervention led by France, supported by Britain and with possible US drone attacks on the way will undoubtedly fuel the narrative of radical Islamist groups. As Professor Rogers puts it to me, it will be portrayed as “one more example of an assault on Islam”. With the speed and reach of modern forms of communication, radical groups in Western Africa and beyond will use this escalating war as evidence of another front opened against Muslims.

It is disturbing – to say the least – how Cameron has led Britain into Mali’s conflict without even a pretence at consultation. Troops will not be sent, we are told; but the term “mission creep” exists for a reason, and an escalation could surely trigger deeper British involvement. The West has a terrible record of aligning itself with the most dubious of allies: the side we have picked are far from human-rights-loving democrats.

© 2012 The Independent

Owen Jones

Owen Jones is a columnist for The Independent. Follow him: twitter.com/@OwenJones84

War in Libya Was Called “Success,” But Now Here We Are Engaging with the...

No scrutiny, no build-up, no parliamentary vote, not even a softening-up exercise. Britain is now involved in yet another military conflict in a Muslim land, or so we have been informed. British aircraft are flying to Mali while France bombs the country, arguing that Islamist militia must be driven back to save Europe from the creation of a “terrorist state”. Amnesty International and West Africa experts warned of the potential disaster of foreign military intervention; the bombs raining on the Malian towns of Konna, Léré and Douentza suggest they have been definitively ignored.

Mali’s current agony has only just emerged in our headlines, but the roots go back generations. Like the other Western colonial powers that invaded and conquered Africa from the 19th century onwards, France used tactics of divide-and-rule in Mali, leading to entrenched bitterness between the nomadic Tuareg people – the base of the current revolt – and other communities in Mali.Soldiers preparing a French jet at the Saint Dizier airbase in eastern France on Sunday. French fighter jets bombed rebel targets in a major city in Mali's north Sunday. (Photo: Laure-Anne Maucorps/French Army/AP)

To some Westerners, this is a distant past to be ignored, moved on from, and certainly not used to preclude noble interventions; but the consequences are still being felt on a daily basis. Initially, the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, suggested its colonial legacy ruled out a France-led intervention; its sudden involvement is far more rapid than expected.

But this intervention is itself the consequence of another. The Libyan war is frequently touted as a success story for liberal interventionism. Yet the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship had consequences that Western intelligence services probably never even bothered to imagine. Tuaregs – who traditionally hailed from northern Mali – made up a large portion of his army. When Gaddafi was ejected from power, they returned to their homeland: sometimes forcibly so as black Africans came under attack in post-Gaddafi Libya, an uncomfortable fact largely ignored by the Western media.

Awash with weapons from Libya’s own turmoil, armed Tuaregs saw an opening for their long-standing dream for national self-determination. As the rebellion spread, the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré was deposed in a military coup and – despite allowing a transitional civilian-led government to take power – the army retains its dominance.

There can certainly be no sympathy for the militia now fighting the Malian  government. Originally, it was the secular  nationalists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad who led the uprising; they have now been pushed aside by Islamist jihadists with a speed that has shocked foreign analysts. Rather than achieving an independent Tuareg state, they have far more sweeping ambitions, linking up with similar groups based in northern Nigeria. Amnesty International reports horrendous atrocities: amputations, sexual violence, the use of child soldiers, and rampant extra-judicial executions.

But don’t fall for a narrative so often pushed by the Western media: a perverse oversimplification of good fighting evil, just as we have seen imposed on Syria’s brutal civil war. Amnesty reports brutality on the part of Malian government forces, too. When the conflict originally exploded, Tuaregs were arrested, tortured, bombed and killed by the security forces, “apparently only on ethnic grounds”, Amnesty says. Last July, 80 inmates arrested by the army were stripped to their underwear, jammed into a 5sqm cell; cigarettes were burnt into their bodies; and they were forced to sodomise each other. Back in September 2012, 16 Muslim preachers belonging to the Dawa group were rounded up at a checkpoint and summarily executed by the army. These are acts committed by those who are now our allies.

When the UN Security Council unanimously paved the way for military force to be used at some point last month, experts made clear warnings that must still be listened to. The International Crisis Group urged a focus on a diplomatic solution to restore stability, arguing that intervention could exacerbate a growing inter-ethnic conflict. Amnesty warned that “an international armed intervention is likely to increase the scale of human-rights violations we are already seeing in this conflict”. Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University, has argued that past wars show that “once started, they can take alarming directions, have very destructive results, and often enhance the very movements they are designed to counter”.

It is conceivable that this intervention could – for a time – achieve its goals of pushing back the Islamist militias, and shore up Mali’s government. But the Libyan war was seen as a success, too; and here we are now engaging with its catastrophic blowback. In Afghanistan, Western forces remain engaged in a never-ending war which has already helped destabilised Pakistan, leading to drone attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians and unleashed further chaos. The price of Western interventions may often be ignored by our media, but it is still paid nonetheless.

Western intervention led by France, supported by Britain and with possible US drone attacks on the way will undoubtedly fuel the narrative of radical Islamist groups. As Professor Rogers puts it to me, it will be portrayed as “one more example of an assault on Islam”. With the speed and reach of modern forms of communication, radical groups in Western Africa and beyond will use this escalating war as evidence of another front opened against Muslims.

It is disturbing – to say the least – how Cameron has led Britain into Mali’s conflict without even a pretence at consultation. Troops will not be sent, we are told; but the term “mission creep” exists for a reason, and an escalation could surely trigger deeper British involvement. The West has a terrible record of aligning itself with the most dubious of allies: the side we have picked are far from human-rights-loving democrats.

© 2012 The Independent

Owen Jones

Owen Jones is a columnist for The Independent. Follow him: twitter.com/@OwenJones84

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: The Great Political Sulk

The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 15 January 2012..

1) 'THE GREAT POLITICAL SULK'

Last week, the PM and Deputy PM were renewing their vows and extolling the virtues and achievements of their coalition government. Last night, the latter's party blocked a key proposal of the former's party, prompting a Tory peer to denounce the deputy prime minister for his "great political sulk".

From the Daily Mail:

"Angry Tories rounded on Nick Clegg for staging a 'sulk' after Libs Dems last night voted down constituency boundary reform.

"The Government was defeated by 300 votes to 231 in the Lords, where Lib Dem ministers voted against their Tory Coalition partners for the first time. Reforms will now be delayed until 2018.

"Last night Tory peer Lord Dobbs said Lib Dem leader Mr Clegg had staged 'a great political sulk'.

"David Cameron has vowed to equalise constituency sizes, but the Lib Dems are furious over what they see as a betrayal after contentious plans to reform the House of Lords failed."

The Tories desperately need this policy in order to secure around 20 extra seats at the next election and the prime minister is said to be prepared to use the Parliament Act in order to overturn the Lords amendment in a Commons vote later this month. But does he have enough support in the lower house to do so? The SNP has said it now plans to join Labour and the Lib Dems in voting against the boundary changes.

Good luck, Dave!

2) CAMERON'S EUROPE SPEECH, PART 101

Whatever happened to Great British Sovereignty, eh? The prime minister, it seems, doesn't even have the power to decide which day to give a speech on.. er.. repatriating powers..

Due to German objections, it'll now be on Friday, not next Tuesday, explains the Times splash:

"David Cameron will this week light a five-year fuse under Britain’s place in Europe after being forced, under pressure from Germany, to bring forward his long-awaited EU speech.

"..[A]rrangements for his EU speech slid into disarray yesterday when he was forced to change the date because of objections from Angela Merkel.

"The German Chancellor advised Mr Cameron during a telephone call on Sunday night that his preferred date of January 22 would be viewed poorly in Berlin and Paris.

"No 10 planners and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office failed to notice that next Tuesday is the 50th anniversary of the Elysée treaty, a key date in the Franco-German calendar, which is being marked by elaborate commemorations."

Whoops!

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the UK is in "danger of putting at risk the fight against terrorism and organised crime if the Conservatives win a battle within the coalition to end British involvement in a series of European Union justice measures".

Oh dear. Oh, and Nick Clegg has just been on the Today programme saying the Lib Dem position on a referendum has not changed: "We need to give the British people the reassurance that if there is a new [EU] treaty.. in the future.. then, of course, we should have a referendum at that point." He also said a premature referendum could have a "chilling" effect on the UK economy.

3) NEW YEAR, NEW WAR

The French government has had strong backing from the UN Security Council overnight, for its ongoing attacks on Islamist rebels in Mali, but is urging African Union troops to take over the mission as soon as possible. The Guardian reports on its front page that " an Islamist militant leader warned the French government its intervention in Mali had opened the 'gates of hell'."

Meanwhile, the Independent splashes on a "warning" to Number 10 from the UK military's "top brass":

"Defence chiefs have warned against Britain becoming enmeshed in the mission against Islamists in Mali, pointing out that any action could be drawn-out and require significantly greater resources than have so far been deployed.

"The most senior commanders are due to make their apprehension clear at a meeting of the National Security Council with the Prime Minister today. They have the backing of the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond."

Has the military learned the lessons of Iraq and especially Afghanistan? You'd hope so. Right?

4) MALI: BY NUMBERS

15.8m number of people living in Mali
90 percentage of population which is Muslim
53 average life expectancy
550 number of French troops deployed so far
1960 the year Mali gained independence from France

(via Huffington Post)

5) THE ROYALS' 'NUCLEAR DETERRENT'

Republicans like me are always accused of exaggerating the political and constitutional power of the good ol' monarchy.

Well, check out this astonishing report in today's Guardian:

"The extent of the Queen and Prince Charles's secretive power of veto over new laws has been exposed after Downing Street lost its battle to keep information about its application secret.

"Whitehall papers prepared by Cabinet Office lawyers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to the most senior royals' little-known power to consent to or block new laws.

".. In one instance the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member's bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.

".. Charles has been asked to consent to 20 pieces of legislation and this power of veto has been described by constitutional lawyers as a royal 'nuclear deterrent' that may help explain why ministers appear to pay close attention to the views of senior royals."

Out-rageous!

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of the funniest moments from Sunday night's Golden Globes awards ceremony.

6) GOD VS THE COALITION

Have ministers been attacking senior civil servants in recent weeks in order to distract attention from country's economic problems and their own political difficulties? That's the view of GOD - Gus O'Donnell - as reported in the Independent:

"In an unprecedented intervention, the recent Cabinet Secretary Lord O'Donnell accuses ministers of undermining civil service morale by blaming officials for self-inflicted difficulties..

"'There is a correlation between attacking the civil service and a Government's standing in the polls,' Lord O'Donnell told The Independent. 'The fact is that the eurozone crisis has meant the economy has not recovered as fast as everyone would have liked. But that is not the fault of the civil service.' Lord O'Donnell also warned of the dangers of rushing through new policies without sufficient thought.

"'No one could argue that this Government has been prevented (by the civil service) from pursuing radical policies,' he said. 'Just look at health, education and welfare. They are not short of radical policies. The issue is whether they are the right policies.'"

Ouch.

7) LOWER PENSIONS FOR ALL!

As I pointed out in yesterday's Memo, the centre-right papers have been very excited about the government's plans for a new flat-rate stat pension, which would help stay-at-home mums. Today's Independent, citing research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), pours cold water on the policy:

"According to the IFS, 'the main effect in the long run will be to reduce pensions for the vast majority of people, while increasing rights for some particular groups, most notably the self-employed.' It said this verdict applied to people born after about 1970. 'In the long run, the reform will not increase accrual for part-time workers and women who take time out to care for children. In fact, in common with everyone else, these groups would end up with a lower pension.'"

8) CHRISTIANS, UNITE!

From the BBC:

"The European Court of Human Rights is due to deliver a landmark ruling in the cases of four British Christians who claim they suffered religious discrimination at work.

"They include an airline worker stopped from wearing a cross and a registrar who did not want to marry gay people.

"The four insist their right to express their religious beliefs was infringed."

Watch this space. The ruling is expected at around 9am.

9) DEADBEAT NATION

Barack Obama, re-elected and reinvigorated, took the fight over the debt ceiling to the Republicans yesterday, with some pretty strong rhetoric - from the Huffington Post:

"President Barack Obama issued a strong warning to Republicans on Monday that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling or allow Republicans to use it as a bargaining chip.

"'To even entertain the idea of the United States of America not paying our bills is irresponsible. It's absurd,' Obama said in a press conference.

".. If the country failed to meet these obligations, Obama argued, investors around the world would question the credibility of the United States.

"'We are not a deadbeat nation,' Obama said. 'So there's a very simple solution to this: Congress authorizes us to pay our bills.'"

Meanwhile, The Hill reports:

"'I'm a pretty friendly guy. I like a good party,' Obama said during his press conference Monday at the White House. He joked that, 'now that my girls are getting older, they don't want to spend that much time with me anyway, so I'll be probably calling around, looking for somebody to play cards with.'"

10) BORIS BEAR

Sorry, what?

From the Times:

"A 12ft sculpture of a polar bear named Boris has been unveiled in Sloane Square to raise awareness of the plight of the species. It was unveiled by the Mayor of London’s father, Stanley Johnson, who is an environmental campaigner."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 124.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@TomHarrisMP Thinking of writing an article about how Twitter's increasing unpleasantness and intolerance is making it less relevant.

‏@DAaronovitch I enjoy the incredulity with which Government Nick Clegg reacts to evidence of Opposition Nick Clegg. #bbcr4today

@joshgreenman We are not a deadbeat nation. We are a dubstep nation.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, warns Cameron not to morph into a "pub bore": "A tough line on Europe and shirkers may be popular, but the Prime Minister has to play the measured statesman."

Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "On the economy, Europe, tax and the NHS, the trajectory is all in favour of Ed Miliband. Now his party can start to dare."

Will Straw, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says: "A referendum would give pro-Europeans the chance to win the case for democratic reform."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Finding Excuses to Torture

Canada Supports Torture: An Instrument of "Terrorism Propaganda"

Despite evidence over the centuries that torture fails to elicit reliable information – and is criminal as well – apologists for George W. Bush and movies like Zero Dark Thirty continue to perpetuate the myth that torture is a necessary evil, at least when Americans are doing the torturing, as Lawrence Davidson writes.

In 2005, I wrote an essay, published in the journal Logos, entitled “Torture in our Time.” In it I laid out the historical evidence for the conclusion that torture rarely works. This position goes back at least to the Enlightenment when Cesare Beccaria wrote a famous pamphlet, “ On Crimes and Punishments” (1764) in which he observed the obvious:
“The impression of pain, then, may increase to such a degree that, occupying the mind entirely, it will compel the sufferer to use the shortest method of freeing himself from torment. … He will accuse himself of crimes of which he is innocent so that the very means employed to distinguish the innocent from the guilty will most effectually destroy all difference between them.”

Along with false admissions of guilt, those under torture will tell their tormenter just about anything, regardless of truth and accuracy. Modern researchers, and even modern practitioners of interrogation, know this to be so. They have come to the same conclusion as Beccaria. Torture produces more false and fictional information than not.

For instance, Darius Rejali in his book Torture and Democracy (2009), tells us that “the available evidence [against the efficacy of torture] is conclusive” and alludes to the fact that, for 250 years, criminologists, and psychologists have been pointing this out.

Image: Depiction of torture methods in the 16th Century. 

The ex-intelligence officer, Colonel John Rothrock, who headed a combat interrogation team in Vietnam, told the Washington Post in 2005 that, given the Vietnam experience, “he doesn’t know any professional intelligence officers of my generation who would think this [torture] is a good idea’” even in a so-called “ticking bomb” scenario.

The inclusion of “my generation” in Rothrock’s statement implies that each generation has to learn the truth about torture anew, over the wreckage of newly broken bodies.

More recently, in December 2012, the Senate Intelligence committee approved a report which, in some 6,000 pages, concludes that “the harsh interrogation measures used by the CIA [that is the torture techniques allowed by the administration of George W. Bush] did not produce significant intelligence breakthroughs.”

This specifically includes the production of intelligence leading to the discovery of Osama bin Laden. Indeed, the report says that torture actually became “counterproductive in the broader campaign against al-Qaeda.” All this led Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to call Bush Jr.’s secret CIA prisons and use of torture “terrible mistakes.”

The Eternal Skeptics

For a certain subset of the population (and not just in the U.S.) these truths do not matter. This subset constitutes a modern warrior caste and their followers. The American sampling includes many (but not all) neoconservatives, classic tough-guys turned politicians, faux-realists, military professionals, and an ever-present small number of people who just like to hurt and humiliate others and find their way into professions that allow them to do so (often the actual torturers).

For all these folks the evidence against torture appears counter-intuitive and just does not “feel right.” Therefore, intuitively, these skeptics feel more comfortable with another statement, that might be juxtaposed with Beccaria’s above. This one was written by White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, in a memorandum for President Bush on Jan. 25, 2002:

“The nature of the new war places a high premium on … the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians.  In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s [the Geneva Convention Against Torture] strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners.”

Currently, it is the Republican Party that harbors many of the skeptics who share this opinion about the efficacy of torture and the “obsolete” nature of the treaties (ratified by the United States) forbidding it.

Some Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee that issued the latest report proving torture’s uselessness, even refused to participate in the report’s investigatory process. For them this might have been the result of obeying their party’s dictate to remain loyal to the discredited Bush administration.

For others though, it was loyalty plus their belief (in the face of all the evidence to the contrary) that Bush was correct to send the CIA out into the world to cause unbearable pain and suffering. They believe such behavior materially contributed to “making America safe.”

Making Torture’s Case at the Movies

Unfortunately, there is a general tendency on the part of Americans to agree with the skeptics. And, this trend is about to be strengthened. There is now a movie, Zero Dark Thirty (the work of the Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow) in U.S. theaters that will reinforce the erroneous view that torture works.

Zero Dark Thirty purports to tell the story, based on “first-hand accounts,” of the hunt for and killing of Osama Bin Laden. According to this film, torture formed a “critical aspect of intelligence gathering” process. There is good evidence that the U.S. government assisted in making the movie, if not the actual writing of the script.

It would be nice if some talented director could make a movie, based on “first-hand accounts” of the making of the Senate report on Bush era torture. But that sort of movie will not be made because Washington has no desire to tie its hands in this regard. Nor will the truly accurate documentaries (see below) that do exist on the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, or the now defunct hell-hole that was Abu Ghraib, get national distribution.

However, we can expect many more films like Zero Dark Thirty. This is because the recent 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed by President Barack Obama makes legal direct government funding of propaganda aimed at the American population. Perhaps the U.S. government is about to buy its own back-lot in Hollywood.

There is a story about Abraham Lincoln that claims that every time he was confronted by someone extolling the benefits of slavery, he had a desire to see it (slavery) tried out on the one defending it. Torture can be approached the same way.

Does President Bush Jr. and ex-counsel Alberto Gonzales think it is a vital part of America’s defense? Do those Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee have such faith in torture that they can dismiss out of hand 6,000 pages of contrary evidence?

OK. Let’s see torture tried out on these fellows and note whether they will confess to false reports about, say, their sex lives.

Just wishful thinking. The torturers we are talking about are all past or present powerful government officials and their henchmen. Most of them will die in bed and maybe, someday, have their face put on a postage stamp. Their horrid deeds, already excused, will soon be forgotten.

For what are crimes when committed by the average person, are but vices when committed by the powerful (so said Benjamin Disraeli). Finally, it has been known for ages that, as the old Latin saying goes, “in times of war the laws go silent.”

Note: Here are three good documentaries touching on the U.S. practice of torture: Alex Gibney, “Taxi to the Dark Side;” Rory Kennedy, “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib;” Annie Sunberg and Ricki Stern, “The End of America.”

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National InterestAmerica’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

Congo’s M23 conflict: Rebellion or resource war? (Op-Ed)

M23 rebels in DR Congo have threatened to march to the capital and depose the government. UN reports confirm that rebels receive support from key US allies in the region, and Washington's role in the conflict has become difficult to ignore.

Instability, lawlessness and violence are nothing new to those who live in the troubled eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. An estimated 6.9 million Congolese have perished since 1996 in a spate of ceaseless military conflicts that have long gripped this severely-overlooked and underreported region. In late November 2012, members of the M23 rebel group invaded and took control of Goma, a strategic provincial capital in North Kivu state with a population of 1 million people, with the declared purpose of marching to the nation’s capital, Kinshasa, to depose the ruling government.

M23's president, Jean Marie Runiga, later agreed to withdraw only if the ruling President Joseph Kabila listened to the group's grievances and adhered to their demands. Rebel leaders have threatened to abandon peace talks unless Kinshasa signs an official ceasefire, a demand the government dismissed as unnecessary.

Kinshasa called on M23 to respect previous agreements to withdraw 20km outside of Goma in a move to prevent the region falling back into war after two decades of conflict, fought largely over the DRC’s vast wealth of copper, cobalt diamonds, gold and coltan.

The United Nation’s peacekeeping mission in DR Congo has come under fire for allowing M23 to take Goma without firing a single shot, despite the presence of 19,000 UN troops in the country. The UN’s Congo mission is its largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation, costing over US$1 billion a year. UN forces recently announced they would introduce the use of surveillance drones over the DRC, in addition to imposing a travel ban and asset freeze on M23 leader Jean-Marie Runiga and Lt. Col. Eric Badege.

A confidential 44-page report issued by a United Nations panel accused the governments of neighboring Rwanda and Uganda of supporting M23 with weapons, ammunition and Rwandan military personnel. Despite both nations denying these accusations, the governments of the United States, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have publicly suspended military aid and developmental assistance to Rwanda. The governments of both Rwanda and Uganda, led by President Paul Kagame and President Yoweri Museveni respectively, have long been staunch American allies and the recipients of millions in military aid.

M23 President Jean-Marie Runiga (2nd R) arrives to address the media in Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.(Reuters / James Akena)
M23 President Jean-Marie Runiga (2nd R) arrives to address the media in Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.(Reuters / James Akena)

Historical precedent

 The DRC has suffered immensely during its history of foreign plunder and colonial occupation; it maintains the second-lowest GDP per capita despite possessingan estimated $24 trillion in untapped raw minerals deposits.

During the Congo Wars of the 1996 to 2003, the United States provided training and arms to Rwandan and Ugandan militias who later invaded the Congo’s eastern provinces where M23 are currently active. In addition to enriching various Western multinational corporations, the regimes of Kagame in Rwanda and Museveni in Uganda both profited immensely from the plunder of Congolese conflict minerals such as cassiterite, wolframite, coltan (from which niobium and tantalum are derived) and gold; the DRC holds more than 30 per cent of the world's diamond reserves and 80 per cent of the world's coltan.

In 1990, civil war raged between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups in neighboring Rwanda; Washington sought to overthrow the 20-year reign of then-President Juvénal Habyarimana (a Hutu) by installing a Tutsi client regime. At the time, prior to the outbreak of the Rwandan civil war, the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), led by the current president, was part of Uganda’s United People's Defense Forces (UPDF).

Kagame, who received training at the US Army Command and Staff College in Leavenworth, Kansas, invaded Rwanda in 1990 from Uganda under the pretext of liberating the Tutsi population from Hutu subjugation. Kagame’s forces defeated the Hutu government in Kigali and installed himself as head of a minority Tutsi regime in Rwanda, prompting the exodus of 2 million Hutu refugees (many of whom took part in the genocide) to UN-run camps in Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces.

Following Kagame’s consolidation of power in Rwanda, a large invasion force of Rwandan Tutsis arrived in North and South Kivu in 1996 under the pretext of pursuing Hutu militant groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Under the banner of safeguarding Rwandan national security, troops from Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi invaded Congo and ripped through Hutu refugee camps, slaughtering thousands of Rwandan and Congolese Hutu civilians, including many women and children.

US Special Forces trained Rwandan and Ugandan troops at Fort Bragg in the United States and supported Congolese rebels, who brought down Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko – they claimed he was giving refuge to the leaders of the genocide.

After deposing Mobutu and seizing control in Kinshasa, a new regime led by Laurent Kabila, father of the current president, was installed. Kabila was quickly regarded as an equally despotic leader, eradicating all opposition to his rule; he turned away from his Rwandan backers and called on Congolese civilians to violently purge the nation of Rwandans, prompting Rwandan forces to regroup in Goma.

Laurent Kabila was assassinated in 2001 at the hands of a member of his security staff, allowing his son, Joseph, to usurp the presidency. The younger Kabila derives his legitimacy from the support of foreign heads of state and the international business community, primarily for his ability to comply with foreign plunder.

During the Congo’s general elections in November 2011, the international community and the UN remained silent regarding the mass irregularities observed by the electoral committee. The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) has faced frequent allegations of corruption, prompting opposition leader Étienne Tshisikedi, who is currently under house arrest, to call for the UN mission to end its deliberate efforts to maintain the system of international plundering and to appoint someone “less corrupt and more credible” to head UN operations.

MONUSCO has been plagued with frequent cases of peacekeeping troops caught smuggling minerals such as cassiterite and dealing weapons to militia groups. Kabila is seen by many to be self-serving in his weak oversight of the central government in Kinshasa. M23 rebels have demanded the liberation of all political prisoners, including opposition leader Étienne Tshisikedi, and the dissolution of the current electoral commission that was in charge 2011’s elections, widely perceived to be fraudulent.

Displaced civilians from Walikale arrive at Magunga III camp outside of the eastern Congolese city of Goma.(Reuters / Alissa Everett)
Displaced civilians from Walikale arrive at Magunga III camp outside of the eastern Congolese city of Goma.(Reuters / Alissa Everett)

Role of US in Rwanda’s M23 backing

M23, or The March 23 Movement, takes its name from peace accords held on March 23, 2009, which allowed members of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), an earlier incarnation of today’s M23, to integrate into the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and be recognized as an official political party.

The CNDP was an entirely Rwandan creation, and was led by figures such as Bosco Ntaganda. In accordance to the deal reached in 2009, the Congolese government agreed to integrate 6,000 CNDP combatants into the FARDC, giving Ntaganda, a Rwandan Tutsi and former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army, a senior position in the integrated force.

The current M23 offensive began in April 2012, when around 300 former CNDP personnel led by Ntaganda defected from FARDC, citing poor working conditions and the government's unwillingness to meaningfully implement the 23 March 2009 peace deal.

According to UN reports, Ntaganda controls several mining operations in the region and has derived enormous profits from mineral exploitation in eastern Congo, in addition to gaining large revenues from taxation levied by Rwandan-backed “mining police.” Bosco Ntaganda appears to be assisting Rwanda’s Tutsi government in plundering eastern Congo’s natural resources, which has gone on since Kagame came to power in 1994; M23 is basically paid for with the money from tin, tungsten and tantalum smuggled from Congolese mines.

UN reports detail Rwanda's deep involvement by even naming Rwandan personnel involved; Ntaganda takes direct military orders from Rwandan Chief of Defense Staff General Charles Kayonga, who in turn acts on instructions from Minster of Defense General James Kabarebe. Both Britain and France reportedly found the UN report to be "credible and compelling."

Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, finds herself mired in scandal yet again; Rice has come under fire for suppressing information on Rwanda’s role in the ongoing resource looting and rebellion in eastern Congo. Rice delayed the publication of a UN Group of Experts report detailing Rwandan and Ugandan depredations in Congo, while simultaneously subverting efforts within the State Department to rein in Kagame and Museveni.

Rice, in her role as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in 1997 under the Clinton administration, tacitly approved Rwanda and Uganda’s invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo and was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “…they [Kagame & Museveni] know how to deal with that, the only thing we have to do is look the other way.”

Another article published in the New York Times by Helen Cooper detailed Rice’s business connections to the Rwandan government:

“Ms. Rice has been at the forefront of trying to shield the Rwandan government, and Mr. Kagame in particular, from international censure, even as several United Nations reports have laid the blame for the violence in Congo at Mr. Kagame’s door… Aides to Ms. Rice acknowledge that she is close to Mr. Kagame and that Mr. Kagame’s government was her client when she worked at Intellibridge, a strategic analysis firm in Washington… After delaying for weeks the publication of a United Nations report denouncing Rwanda’s support for the M23 and opposing any direct references to Rwanda in United Nations statements and resolutions on the crisis, Ms. Rice intervened to water down a Security Council resolution that strongly condemned the M23 for widespread rape, summary executions and recruitment of child soldiers. The resolution expressed ‘deep concern’ about external actors supporting the M23. But Ms. Rice prevailed in preventing the resolution from explicitly naming Rwanda when it was passed on Nov. 20.”

M23 rebel fighters walk as they withdraw near the town of Sake, some 42 km (26 miles) west of Goma.(Reuters / Goran Tomasevic)
M23 rebel fighters walk as they withdraw near the town of Sake, some 42 km (26 miles) west of Goma.(Reuters / Goran Tomasevic)

Geopolitics of plunder

It must be recognized that Kagame controls a vastly wealthy and mineral-rich area of eastern Congo – an area that has long been integrated into Rwanda’s economy – with total complicity from the United States.

As Washington prepares to escalate its military presence throughout the African continent with AFRICOM, the United States Africa Command, what long-term objectives does Uncle Sam have in the Congo, considered the world’s most resource-rich nation?

Washington is crusading against China's export restrictions on minerals that are crucial components in the production of consumer electronics such as flat-screen televisions, smart phones, laptop batteries, and a host of other products. The US sees these Chinese export policies as a means of Beijing attempting to monopolize the mineral and rare earth market.

In a 2010 white paper entitled Critical Raw Materials for the EU,” the European Commission cites the immediate need for reserve supplies of tantalum, cobalt, niobium, and tungsten among others; the US Department of Energy 2010 white paper Critical Mineral Strategy also acknowledged the strategic importance of these key components.

In 1980, Pentagon documents acknowledged shortages of cobalt, titanium, chromium, tantalum, beryllium, and nickel. The US Congressional Budget Office’s 1982 report Cobalt: Policy Options for a Strategic Mineral notes that cobalt alloys are critical to the aerospace and weapons industries and that 64 per cent of the world’s cobalt reserves lay in the Katanga Copper Belt, running from southeastern Congo into northern Zambia.

Additionally, the sole piece of legislation authored by President Obama during his time as a Senator was SB 2125, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006. In the legislation, Obama acknowledges Congo as a long-term interest to the United States and further alludes to the threat of Hutu militias as an apparent pretext for continued interference in the region; Section 201(6) of the bill specifically calls for the protection of natural resources in the eastern DRC.

The United States does not like the fact that President Kabila in Kinshasa has become very comfortable with Beijing, and worries that Congo will drift into Chinese economic orbit. Under the current regime in Congo, Chinese commercial activities have significantly increased not only in the mining sector, but also considerably in the telecommunications field.

In 2000, the Chinese ZTE Corporation finalized a $12.6 million deal with the Congolese government to establish the first Sino-Congolese telecommunications company; furthermore, the DRC exported $1.4 billion worth of cobalt between 2007 and 2008. The majority of Congolese raw materials like cobalt, copper ore and a variety of hardwoods are exported to China for further processing and 90 per cent of the processing plants in resource rich southeastern Katanga province are owned by Chinese nationals.

In 2008, a consortium of Chinese companies were granted the rights to mining operations in Katanga in exchange for US$6 billion in infrastructure investments, including the construction of two hospitals, four universities and a hydroelectric power project.

In 2009, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) demanded renegotiation of the deal, arguing that the agreement between China and the DRC violated the foreign debt relief program for so-called HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) nations.

The IMF successfully blocked the deal in May 2009, calling for a more feasibility study of the DRCs mineral concessions. An article published by Shamus Cooke of Workers Action explains:

“This act instantly transformed Kabila from an unreliable friend to an enemy. The US and China have been madly scrambling for Africa’s immense wealth of raw materials, and Kabila’s new alliance with China was too much for the US to bear. Kabila further inflamed his former allies by demanding that the international corporations exploiting the Congo’s precious metals have their super-profit contracts re-negotiated, so that the country might actually receive some benefit from its riches.”

During a diplomatic tour of Africa in 2011, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton herself has irresponsibly insinuated China’s guilt in perpetuating a creeping “new colonialism.” China annually invests an estimated $5.5 billion in Africa, with only 29 per cent of direct investment in the mining sector in 2009 – while more than half was directed toward domestic manufacturing, finance, and construction industries. China has further committed $10 billion in concessional loans to Africa between 2009 and 2012.

As Africa’s largest trading partner, China imports 1.5 million barrels of oil from Africa per day, accounting for approximately 30 per cent of its total imports. Over the past decade, 750,000 Chinese nationals have settled in Africa; China’s deepening economic engagement in Africa and its crucial role in developing the mineral sector, telecommunications industry and much needed infrastructural projects iscreating "deep nervousness" in the West, according to David Shinn, the former US ambassador to Burkina Faso and Ethiopia.

Too big to fail, or too big to succeed?

In December 2012, Dr J Peter Pham published a bizarre Op-Ed in the New York Times titled, To Save Congo, Let It Fall Apart.” Pham is the director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center and is a frequent guest lecturer on the US Army War College, the Joint Special Operations University, and other US Government affiliated educational institutions; he is a Washington insider, and understanding his rationale is important, as his opinion may very well shape US policy in Congo. Pham argues that Congo is an “artificial entity” that is “too big to succeed,” and therefore, the policy direction taken by the US should be one of promoting balkanization:

“Rather than nation-building, what is needed to end Congo’s violence is the opposite: breaking up a chronically failed state into smaller organic units whose members share broad agreement or at least have common interests in personal and community security… If Congo were permitted to break up into smaller entities, the international community could devote its increasingly scarce resources to humanitarian relief and development, rather than trying, as the United Nations Security Council has pledged, to preserve the ‘sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity’ of a fictional state that is of value only to the political elites who have clawed their way to the top in order to plunder Congo’s resources and fund the patronage networks that ensure that they will remain in power.”

What Pham is suggesting is policy to bring out the collapse of the Congolese nation by creating tiny ethno-nationalist entities too small to stand up to multinational corporations. The success of M23 must surely have shaken President Kabila, whose father came to power with the backing of the Ugandan and Rwandan regimes in 1996, employing the same strategies that M23 is using today.

If Kabila wants to stay in power, he needs the capability of exercising authority over the entire country. Sanctions should be imposed on top-level Rwandan and Ugandan officials and all military aid should be withheld; additionally, Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame should be investigated and removed from his position. Kambale Musavuli, of the Washington DC-based NGO, Friends of Congo, has it right when he says:

“People need to be clear who we are fighting in the Congo… We are fighting Western powers, the United States and the United Kingdom, who are arming, training and equipping the Rwandan and Ugandan militaries.”

M23 military leader General Sultani Makenga attend press conference in Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.(Reuters / James Akena)
M23 military leader General Sultani Makenga attend press conference in Bunagana in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.(Reuters / James Akena)

­Nile Bowie for RT

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

We Are All Aaron Swartz! Fighting Back Against the “Intellectual Property” Racket

Aaron Swartz’ passing becomes even more tragic if we do not recognize what he spent his life fighting for, and realize that no matter where we think we stand on the issue of Internet freedom, the interests driving the debate from Wall Street and Washington, do not have any of our best interests in mind.

In your standard dictatorship, activists are brought out back and shot.

In the United States’ crypto-dictatorship, activists are bullied by the state until they go bankrupt, are buried under a mountain of legal woes, are publicly discredited or humiliated, or as in the case of activist and Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, made to crack under the constant pressure, and commit suicide.

While superficially the United States may seem more progressive, a dead activist bullied to death for his political views, is a dead activist – whether it was a bullet in the back of the head by SS officers, or a mountain of litigation dumped upon someone by the US Department of Justice.

We are All Aaron Swartz.

Aaron Swartz protesting SOPA (image right)

Swartz was an active opponent of the media industry’s various assaults on Internet freedom and sharing, including the scandalous SOPA/PIPA and ACTA bills. He was the director of Demand Progress, which pursued the following campaigns:

The big business lobbyists who are behind the Internet Blacklist Bill are already making the sequel. The “Ten Strikes” bill would make it a felony to stream copyrighted content — like music in the background of a Youtube video, movies and TV shows — more than ten times.

Click here to read the text of the bill and voice your opposition.

2. Oppose Protect-IP We knew that members of Congress and their business allies were gearing up to pass a revised Internet Blacklist Bill — which more than 325,000 Demand Progress members helped block last winter — but we never expected it to be this atrocious. Last year’s bill has been renamed the “PROTECT IP” Act and it is far worse than its predecessor.

The new PROTECT-IP Act retains the censorship components from COICA, but adds a new one: It bans people from having serious conversations about the blacklisted sites. Under the new bill, anyone “referring or linking” to a blacklisted site is prohibited from doing so and can be served with a blacklist order forcing them to stop.

3. Bin Laden Is Dead. Will The Patriot Act Live On?The Patriot Act was enacted as a supposedly temporary measure in the wake of 9-11. With Bin Laden’s passing, the era of the Patriot Act, of spying on Americans who aren’t suspected of crimes, of heavy-handed abuse of our dearly held civil liberties, must come to an end.We need to act now to make sure we win this fight. Tens of thousands of Demand Progress members have already urged Congress to fix the Patriot Act. Will you ask Congress and the President to return us to the legal norms that existed before 9-11 and start respecting our civil liberties?
4. Tell Facebook: Stop Censoring Political SpeechA range of Facebook users, from political dissidents to technology bloggers, are reporting the sudden blocking of their pages. Facebook provided no prior warning, nor was there a clear process established to restore access to the blocked pages.

Will you fight back?

5. Tell The DOJ: Investigate Goldman Sachs

Investigators discovered that Goldman traders bragged about selling “shitty” deals to clients and the mega-bank bet against the same financial products it was selling to investors. And they’ve lied about it all the way to the bank.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and small-time homeowners are in jail for mortgage fraud, but no CEOs have been prosecuted for their roles in the financial crisis. It’s time to change that.

6. Tell Your Lawmakers: Shut Down The New Debtors’ Prisons

Americans are in more debt than ever before, and the banks are going to new extremes to squeeze us for every last penny: If you can’t pay up, they’ll try to get you locked up.

7. Could the Government Really Shut Down Facebook?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are out of control. They’ve been seizing domain names without due process: they shut down 84,000 sites by accident last month, arrested a man for linking to other websites, and government officials think ICE and DHS are claiming powers that would even threaten sites like Facebook.

8. Fight Internet ‘Kill Switch’

Are our leaders better than Egypt’s? Across the globe, governments know that the Internet is increasingly the lifeblood of democracy — that’s why Egypt’s oppressive regime just shut down the Internet there.

But even as American politicians condemn Egypt for doing so, they’re pushing legislation to give our government the power to do the exact same thing here at home! The so-called ‘Kill Switch’ would let the president turn off our Internet — without a court even having to approve the decision.

Join over 40,000 in fighting it. Add your name!

9. Let the PATRIOT Act Expire

The most noxious parts of the USA PATRIOT Act are about to expire — but Congress wants to extend them again. These provisions let the government spy on people without naming them in a warrant, and secretly access your library and bank records under a gag order prohibiting anyone from letting you know.

Join over 60,000 in opposing extension. Add your name!

10. No Mandatory Internet IDs!

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke just announced that he’s developing virtual ID cards for Internet users — and they could pose a severe threat to our privacy! The program’s called the “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace” and the draft proposal indicates that we’d be forced to use the IDs for any online transactions with the government, and for online interactions with businesses that use them.

Over 30,000 have told Gary Locke to back off. Add your name!

11. Protect Whistleblowers at Big Banks

Crimes committed by the big banks helped crash our economy — and WikiLeaks is saying that a whistle-blower has sent them enough evidence to take down Bank of America. So now the big banks are fighting back by trying to get the government to muzzle future whistle-blowers.

Tell the SEC not to listen to them. Add your name!

12. Don’t Let them Outlaw WikiLeaks!

Politicians are leading the charge to outlaw WikiLeaks and undermine freedom of the press. First Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) successfully pressured Amazon.com to stop hosting the WikiLeaks website and now, as Julian Assange has been arrested in the UK, he’s introduced a new bill changing the law to make WikiLeaks illegal.

More than 30,000 have signed our petition to stop him. Add your name!

13. Stop the TSA’s Nude Scanners!

Across the country, TSA is replacing airport metal detectors with scanners that take nude photos of you — violating your rights, zapping you with X-rays that could cause cancer, and slowing down the lines. And if you opt-out, they feel up your “sensitive regions.”

Lawmakers in New Jersey and Idaho are trying to stop them. Let’s get a similar bill introduced in every state! Contact your lawmaker!

14. Stop the Internet Blacklist!

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are out of control. They’ve been seizing domain names without due process: they shut down 84,000 sites by accident last month, arrested a man for linking to other websites, and government officials think ICE and DHS are claiming powers that would even threaten sites like Facebook.

Over 300,000 signers! Add your name!

PLUS: Download our new flyer for our Stop The Internet Blacklist campaign and start a grassroots movement in your area!

Clearly, Demand Progress is not just another faux-NGO working in tandem with special interests under the guise of “human rights,” “freedom,” and “democracy” to peddle further exploitation and expansion of the powers that be – but rather identified these special interests by name, and exposed both their agenda and the means by which they attempt to achieve it. Swartz’ death is a tragic one, and compounded by the dismissive, almost celebratory atmosphere across the corporate-media of the passing of a man they labeled a suspected criminal.

Swartz was targeted by the US Department of Justice, MIT, and their corporate-financier sponsors because he was a prominent and particularly effective voice against real creeping oppression. He was a pragmatic, technical individual and proposed solutions that short-circuited the typical and ineffectual political infighting that drives most disingenuous or misguided causes.We all stand the potential of being targeted like Swartz if we allow these monopolies to continue dictating the destiny of human progress. We are all Aaron Swartz – and must realize his targeting and subsequent suicide is the manifestation of the real danger these insidious monopolies pose to us.

Sharing is Not a Crime.

Technologically empowered openness and generosity across the corporate-financier dominated Western World is no more a real offense than was being Jewish inside Nazi Germany. But like Nazi Germany, anything can be “outlawed” if it suits political and economic special interest. Are we truly “criminals” for not respecting laws born of special interests, detached from the will and best interests of the people? No, we most certainly aren’t.

Swartz allegedly downloaded scholarly files from an open and unsecured academic archive (and here). The original files are still very much intact and at the disposal of the organization that maintains the archives. Nothing was stolen, yet Swartz was accused of “theft,” facing 30 years in prison and a 1 million dollar fine – this in a nation where rapists and murders can spend less time in prison, and elected representatives involved in willfully selling wars based on patently false pretenses walk free without even the faintest prospect of facing justice.

Swartz’ crusade against the corporate-financier interests attempting to monopolize and control communication and technology is surely why he was targeted by the federal government, academia, and their corporate-financier sponsors. It is no different than an activist being brought out back of a kangaroo court in a third-world dictatorship, and shot. The silence from so-called “human rights” advocates over the treatment, and now death of Aaron Swartz is deafening – exposing them yet again as another cog in the machine.

It is time to fight back – and time to fight back without the help of these disingenuous NGOs and their purposefully futile tactics of solely protesting and petitioning. Pragmatic, technical solutions must also be explored and deployed at the grassroots to shatter these corporate-financier monopolies at the very source of their power – that is – our daily patronage and dependence on their goods and services.

The Plan.

An alternative to the networks, media, services, and even hardware must be devised and deployed across our local communities. Laws born of special interests and flying in the face of the people’s best interests must be exposed, condemned, and entirely ignored. Taking away a human being’s freedom because they copied and shared a file is unconscionable – as unconscionable as imprisoning a human being because of their political, religious, or racial background. We would ignore laws imposed upon our society singling out blacks or Jews, but not laws criminalizing sharing solely for the benefit of corporate special interests?

In December 2012′s “Decentralizing Telecom,” a plan for establishing a second Internet, locally built and maintained, and connected with neighboring networks to run parallel to the existing Internet – but be free of large telecom monopolies – was proposed.

Also published in December of 2012, was “Sharing is Not a Crime: A Battle Plan to Fight Back,” which illustrated the importance of shifting entirely away from proprietary business models and instead, both using and producing open source hardware, software, news, and entertainment.

Establishing local, and eventually national and even international parallel networks is possible, but will take time. Turning toward open source software can begin today, with a visit to OSalt.com and exploring alternatives that are already being used by millions today.

A bridge between where we are now and a truly free Internet made by the people, for the people, and entirely maintained in a decentralized, local manner, is what are called “Pirate Boxes.” David Darts, an artist, designer, and coder, describes a Pirate Box as:

PirateBox is a self-contained mobile communication and file sharing device. Simply turn it on to transform any space into a free and open communications and file sharing network.

Share (and chat!) Freely Inspired by pirate radio and the free culture movements, PirateBox utilizes Free, Libre and Open Source software (FLOSS) to create mobile wireless communications and file sharing networks where users can anonymously chat and share images, video, audio, documents, and other digital content.

Private and Secure PirateBox is designed to be private and secure. No logins are required and no user data is logged. Users remain completely anonymous – the system is purposely not connected to the Internet in order to subvert tracking and preserve user privacy.

Easy to Use Using the PirateBox is easy. Simply turn it on and transform any space into a free communication and file sharing network. Users within range of the device can join the PirateBox open wireless network from any wifi-enabled device and begin chatting and sharing files immediately.

Under David’s FAQ’s regarding Pirate Boxes, a particularly useful question is answered:

Can I make my own PirateBox?

Absolutely! The PirateBox is registered under the GNU GPLv3. You can run it on an existing device or can be built as a stand-alone device for as little as US$35. For detailed instructions, visit the PirateBox DIY page.

For the media-industry to stop the spread of local hardware solutions like Pirate Boxes, they would have to literally be in every single community, inside every single person’s house, to prevent people from taking legally purchased or freely available media, and sharing it – akin to publishers policing the entire population to prevent readers from lending their friends and family their copy of a particular book.

The basic principles and experience one gets from building and using a Pirate Box can allow them to tackle larger mesh networks and eventually, decentralize telecom. By encouraging local meetings where PirateBoxes are used, the foundation for new local organizations and institutions can be laid.

New Paradigms Require New Institutions – Join or Start a Hackerspace

Not everyone possesses the knowledge and skills necessary to create local networks or develop alternatives to the goods and services we currently depend on corporate-financier monopolies for. Even those that do, cannot, by themselves, effectively research, develop, and deploy such alternatives. By pooling our resources together in common spaces called “hackerspaces,” we can. Hackerspaces are not just for technically talented individuals, but a place where anyone with the inclination to learn can come and participate.

Hackerspaces can be organized under a wide range of templates – including clubs where dues are paid, spaces that earn income through providing courses or services to the community, and many others. It will be in hackerspaces, and local institutions like them, that a truly people-driven paradigm shift takes place – one of pragmatism and progress, not endlessly broken political promises from elected officials.

People can visit Hackerspaces.org to see the closest organization near them where they can join in. Conversely, for those who either don’t have a hackerspace nearby to join, or simply want to start their own, see, “How to Start a Hackerspace,” for more information on where to begin.

Finally…

Aaron Swartz’ passing becomes even more tragic if we do not recognize what he spent his life fighting for, and realize that no matter where we think we stand on the issue of Internet freedom, the interests driving the debate from Wall Street and Washington, do not have any of our best interests in mind.

We are all Aaron Swartz – to reclaim the battle cry abused so flagrantly by the West’s faux-democratic “awakening” in the Arab World and beyond. And we must all become active opponents of this agenda to usurp our ability to determine our own destiny. Aaron Swartz was an exceptional proponent of Internet freedom and openness – but by all of us joining the ranks of this cause, we exponentially complicate the system’s ability to target and destroy any one of us. If your cause is just, and your means constructive and pragmatic, there isn’t just “safety” in numbers, there is invincibility.

Dangerous Crossroads: Japan to Seek NATO Support Against China

By Liu Sha

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will write a letter to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to call for closer ties in the face of China’s rising maritime power.

The letter will say that China’s frequent patrols in the disputed Diaoyu Islands and increasing maritime power has intensified the security situation in East Asia, Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Sunday.

In the letter, Abe will also mention that Japan is ready to take a more active role in maintaining stability and prosperity in East Asia, NHK reported.

According to the report, Katsuyuki Kawai, chairman of the Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee of Japan, will arrive at Brussels next Wednesday and bring Abe’s personal letter to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

This letter, viewed as another move by Japan to enhance its military capability, comes after the nation increased its defense budget for the first time in 11 years last Sunday against the background of the Diaoyu Islands disputes.

Japan Self-Defense Forces also conducted a 2,000-man island-retaking drill on Sunday, China Central Television reported.

Liu Jiangyong, deputy director and professor of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University, said that Japan would not succeed in uniting NATO.

“NATO’s main task was to maintain the peace and protect human rights in Europe and many member countries of NATO are facing economic problems, which they hope to fix with the help of China,” Liu told the Global Times.

Liu said Abe was repeating failed moves, referring to the fact that Abe was the first Japanese head to visit NATO headquarters in 2007 but no military ties resulted, as he wished.

Although the two sides shared security threats such as the North Korean nuclear and missile programs, most NATO members do not have a conflict of interest with China in terms of sea territory, Liu said.

In the letter that will be sent to NATO, Abe will also note that North Korea’s behavior led to the tense security environment in East Asia, NHK reported.

Abe’s first overseas trip after re-taking the position of prime minister was to South East Asian countries in January after his visit to the US was delayed due to US President Barack Obama’s tight schedule, Reuters reported.

However, most Southeast countries would not take a side and risk conflict with China, Liu said, adding Japan is on the way to being isolated from other countries.

Lü Chao, a researcher with the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that despite Japan’s efforts to fix the relationship with South Korea, Seoul’s release of attempted Yasukuni arsonist Liu Qiang, a Chinese national, showed common ground with China.

Abe gave a speech on Friday, accusing China of deliberately targeting Japanese companies during protests against Japan as part of a strategy of confrontation over the territorial dispute.

Agencies contributed to this story

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Protestors and Former Detainees Mark Guantanamo Anniversary in London

Context: As yet there are no context links for this item.

Transcript

Hassan Ghani

Another year, and another sombre vigil outside the US embassy in London. A somewhat eclectic gathering in near freezing temperatures ensured that 11 years of Guantanamo did not go unmarked.Aisha Maniar, London Guantanamo Campaign“It’s down to the public now. President Obama broke his promise four years ago to close Guantanamo Bay. The argument with so-called terrorists, is that terrorists act outside of the law; but what we actually see is governments acting like mafia, like terrorists themselves, and they too are acting outside the known confines of the law. There’s no exceptions for the use of torture, there’s no reason for arbritrary detention – if people have committed crimes then try them, in a normal court of law. Try them and then lock them up. Don’t lock them up and then hold them for eleven years and say ‘oh these people are bad because we say so’.”Alice, Student Activist“It’s just unintelligible that it would still be open. And especially the inhumane treatment to people that have been proven innocent.”Hassan GhaniOf the nearly 800 men and children held in Guantanamo over the years, today 166 still remain. More than half of them have also cleared for release, some many years ago. But despite having come out clean after years of detention without trial, interrogations, and torture - or what the US department of defence called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, they remain trapped in this legal blackhole.Staff at ‘Reprieve’, the legal action charity, have been working on some of the cases.Hilary Stauffer, Deputy Director of Reprieve“The US Congress in 2010 passed a law called the National Defence Authorisation Act – that is the defence bill for the year, that’s just the spending bill that manages the budget for the army. But they also tacked on a provision in there that had a lot to do with Guantanamo.It said that no US funds could be used to transfer detainees. It said that detainees could never be transferred or resettled in the United States, even the ones that are completely innocent. And it said that if they were going to be released, the Secretary of Defence, the Secretary of State, and the Director of National Intelligence all had to agree. And that the country he went to had to certify that he would never commit an act of terrorism again, certify that he would never pose a threat to the United States ever again, and had to certify that they would watch him in perpetuity. And it’s very difficult to meet those, no one’s been released since the NDAA came into effect, except through political deals behind the scenes.”Hassan GhaniAmong those cleared for release several years ago is the last remaining British resident in Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer. His family have been campaigning on his behalf. But, for the moment, there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.Hilary Stauffer, Deputy Director of Reprieve“In many cases these men don’t want to go back to where they are from. Shaker is a British resident, he’s married to a British citizen, has children who are British citizens, but he’s originally from Saudi Arabia. If he went back to Saudi Arabia he’d probably be very very mistreated or tortured, because that happens in a lot of places, these guys go back to countries that are less democratic than others, and it’s guilt by suspicion. So they don’t want to go back to their country of origin, they want to be resettled to a third country. But in many cases these countries say ‘if the US wont take them, why should we?’”Hassan GhaniFor those who’ve survived rendition, torture and detention without trial, and have begun rebuilding their lives, the mental scars are enduring. And the anniversary brings with it a reminder of those left behind.Bisher al-Rawi, Guantanamo Detainee 2002-2007“We write them letters, we keep in touch with their families, we try to send them news. And although it’s extremely important to work, it’s extremely painful. Every day is a reminder. I look in the faces of my children and I think of the brothers who have left their children behind, the brothers who have not had families – people who got married and never had kids.”Hassan GhaniOmar Deghayez was held in Guantanamo for five years. At one point he was beaten so badly, that he lost the use of one of his eyes.Omar Deghayes, Guantanamo Detainee 2002-2007“They were holding my head back and holding me down, and then he pushed his fingers into my eyes. I didn’t understand what he was doing so I had my eyes clearly open, until I felt the pain of his fingers coming wholly inside the eyes, and he was pushing harder. So I closed my eyes but it was too late when his fingers were already inside. And the officer kept saying to him ‘more more’, and the guard was screaming, because he was I think frightened himself, saying ‘I am I am’.I think they wanted to make an example of us, we were in a ‘Oscar’ block where they thought we were rebellious, because they did that to me and then they went to the next cell and the next cell, and they did it to all of them. It was one night they did that. Several people lost their eyes.The mistreatment in Guantanamo will last with you, I think, forever. It’s a grave wound, probably it will stay in the heart, in the psyche, of the person.”Hassan GhaniLike other former detainees, he too feels a sense of guilt at being free when others remain inside.Omar Deghayes, Guantanamo Detainee 2002-2007“There are still people who were with us, comrades, people who are inmates, friends of ours, people who we lived with and we promised that when we go out.. they had expectations that we would be able to speak about them – especially us in the United Kingdom, because many who are released to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and others are gagged, imprisoned, sometimes silenced by force.When they heard the announcement in Guantanamo that I was going to be released, people were celebrating as if they were going to be released. Because they know my background, I’m a lawyer, a human rights lawyer, and on top of that I speak English, on top of that I’m in the UK.”Hassan GhaniBut while media attention is generally drawn to Guantanamo, the US administration and the CIA hold prisoners in even more controversial facilities in other countries around the world, known as black sites, where few know what really goes on. And now, with drone strikes, human rights organisations say the Obama administration has completely bypassed the whole legal process.Hilary Stauffer, Deputy Director of Reprieve“It’s a controversial policy, but instead of capturing terrorism suspects he’s often just killing them abroad through drone strikes, so that you negate the need for a prison if you’re not even bringing people to any kind of trial, or you’re just killing them on the ground. Generally, the vast majority of them are just unnamed alleged terrorists abroad, but nobody has any idea what they’re being charged with. And drone strikes are particularly problematic because Obama has said that his justification is basically anybody in military age, between 18 and 65, is a target, a potential militant, and it’s up to them to prove after the fact that they weren’t a militant. But if they’re dead, it’s very difficult to prove that.”Hassan GhaniFor protestors outside the US embassy in London, Guantanamo remains a powerful symbol of a wider unjust system, and they say they know their work isn’t over if the prison closes tomorrow.“It’s likely that opponents of the US government’s network of renditions, black sites, and drone killings will be meeting here for many more years to come. The US administration says that some of the detainees it currently holds can be held indefinitely, without charge or trial, pending an end to hostilities, as prisoners of war. The seemingly never-ending, ever-expanding, war on terror. Hassan Ghani, for the Real News, London.


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Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Are You In Or Out?

The ten things you need to know on Monday 14 January 2013...

1) ARE YOU IN OR OUT?

The prime minister David Cameron has been on the Today programme this morning, telling John Humphrys that he agreed with George Osborne's comments that the EU had to change if the UK was going to stay inside the Union.

Would it be 'mad' to leave the EU, asked Humphrys (referring to yesterday's Mail on Sunday splash)? "I choose my words carefully," replied DC, dodging the question, adding that the UK would not "collapse" outside the EU. And he said: “The idea that everyone in Europe has to do everything at the same speed, in the same way, is wrong.”

Nonetheless, he criticised the 'Norway model' - which has to implement EU laws - "by fax" - without being part of the EU. But it is in the end "for our country, for our people" to decide on our future inside the EU.

But he told the BBC that his long-awaited "speech is finished...and largely ready to go". He repeatedly refused to comment on whether he'd be offering the public an in/out referendum, as suggested by Eric Pickles yesterday (see below).

The papers, meanwhile, yet again, are full of Europe/Cameron/Tory headlines. As I said yesterday, it feels like the early 1990s again.

"Pressure mounts on Cameron," says the headline in the Financial Times this morning, referring to the Tory leader's forthcoming speech on the future of the UK's relationship with Europe.

Cameron's cabinet colleagues don't seem to be helping, though - Eric Pickles gave an interview to Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday evening which seemed to pre-empt the PM's much-heralded EU speech.

From the front of the Daily Telegraph:

"David Cameron is preparing to offer British voters a referendum on whether it is 'in our interests or not to remain in the European Community', a senior Cabinet minister disclosed on Sunday night.

"Eric Pickles, the Local Government Secretary, said that Britain should not remain in the EU 'at any price' and pledged to cast his vote in the referendum based on his judgment of the “national interest”.

".. Asked whether the referendum would be about 'accepting or rejecting' Britain’s EU membership, Mr Pickles replied: 'In the interests of Britain it will be about whether or not it’s… in our interests or not to remain in the European Community. And I tell you, I won’t be voting on party lines, I’ll be voting on what I think is the interest of the country.'"

I wonder how many other Tory cabinet ministers will decide to give their two cents' worth on Europe between now and next Tuesday's 'tantric' speech by the PM in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the Times reports:

"A chasm between David Cameron and the overwhelming majority of Conservatives over Europe is starkly illustrated in a new poll today.

Seventy-eight per cent of Tory members want to quit the European Union, either altogether or to replace it with a common market relationship, according to the survey by the ConservativeHome website.

"Only 16 per cent want the kind of future that is expected to be the central vision of the Prime Minister's landmark speech on Europe next week, in which some powers would be repatriated to the UK from Brussels."

2) PENSIONS BOOST OR 'CON TRICK'?

From the Press Association:

"Plans for a radical shake-up of state pensions will be announced by the Government on Monday..

"The Coalition's proposals include a single flat rate state pension, equivalent to around £144 in today's money, to be introduced for new pensioners from 2017 in a bid to simplify the system.

"Ministers said the reform will create a simple flat rate pension set above the means test (currently £142.70) and based on 35 years of National Insurance contributions and will 'hugely benefit' women, low earners and the self employed, who under existing rules find it almost impossible to earn a full state pension."

The centre-right newspapers are very excited:

"£155 Pension Boost For Stay-Home Mothers," says the Daily Mail splash headline.

"Pensions To Soar By 25%," says the Daily Express on its front page.

"£500 Bonus For Women In Pension Reform," reads the headline on the front of the Daily Telegraph.

But the Guardian reports that

"..the government announcement, due to be unveiled in a white paper, was immediately condemned by the National Pensioners Convention as a "con trick" for future generations.

"The convention directly challenged Duncan Smith's claim, saying that women will suffer because pensioners will have to make national insurance contributions for 35 years, rather than the current 30, to benefit from the new pension."

3) TAX AVOIDERS VS THE THE TWO EDS

UKUncut, meet your newest allies! From the Guardian:

"A Labour government would stop 'scandalous' tax avoidance by multinational companies operating in Britain by ending secrecy over tax rates, Ed Miliband has said.

".. The Labour leader told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1: 'We've got a situation where many British companies and many individuals are paying their fair share of tax and they look in horror at a system where multinational companies, some multinational companies from other countries, can make huge profits in Britain and not pay taxes in Britain. This is scandalous, it's got to change. The next Labour government will change it.'"

In an exclusive blog for the Huffington Post UK, shadow chancellor Ed Balls lays out how:

"First on ending tax secrecy, multinational groups should have to publish a simple, single figure for the amount of corporation tax they pay in the UK.

".. But this isn't just about individual companies. So second we're going to have to reform the current rules that allow companies to make profits in Britain but pay no tax. That means reform of our corporation tax system.. The rules need to be clearer, tighter and properly enforced."

4) 'NO, MINISTER'

The Times splashes on the 'cold war' between Sir Humphrey and the coalition's finest:

"An increasingly bitter power struggle between ministers and mandarins is poisoning relations across Whitehall and threatening to derail David Cameron's reforms, The Times has learnt. Tension over the pace and scale of coalition policy has given way to outright mistrust in some departments with ministers feeling blocked by an unwieldy and unwilling Civil Service.

"One Tory Cabinet minister said that the working relationship was akin to both sides waging a permanent 'cold war'.

"Theresa May, the Home Secretary, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary and Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, are among those to have grown exasperated with their staff.

".. Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, the constitutional historian and Whitehall chronicler, said: 'It's as bad as I've ever known it. The 'governing marriage' between the Civil Service and the politicians is in real trouble.'"

You could argue that ministers' decision to brief the Times will only make the marital difficulties much worse. Time to book an appointment with Relate, perhaps.

On a side note, my two favourite factoids from the piece are these:

(i) "Members of the Government's digital service go to meetings with a suitcase holding £1 million of fake banknotes so as to try to focus the minds of civil servants on not wasting taxpayers' money."
(ii) "Mr Cameron and Mr Blair both refer to the satire Yes, Prime Minister as a documentary rather than a comedy."

5) 'HOLLANDE'S WAR'

That's the headline to a rather interesting 'analysis' piece in the Guardian on France's Mali intervention. Angelique Chrisafis writes:

"Already commentators in France are saying Mali could transform Hollande's political image. Unpopular in the polls and accused by critics of dithering on the economy, Mali has shown Hollande in decisive mode. 'If Sarkozy had Libya, Hollande will have Mali,' said Le Parisien, referring to Sarkozy's personal investment against Gaddafi. But 'Sarkozy's war', as Libya was termed, never boosted the former rightwing president's poll ratings and failed to get him re-elected.

The UK has a role in all this too, as the Independent reminds us on its front page:

"The first British war planes sent to assist French military strikes against Islamist rebels in Mali arrived in France last night, where they will be loaded with equipment before flying to Africa today."

And the BBC reports this morning:

"On Sunday, French warplanes bombed the town of Gao in eastern Mali, extending their raids deep into rebel territory.

"France's military has been in action against Islamist militants in Mali since Friday, helping government forces recapture the central town of Konna."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a cat getting terrified by Nicky Minaj's face. Yep. You read that right.

6) GETTING HIGH

From the Times:

"Cannabis, Ecstasy and other 'lowharm' drugs should be licensed for sale in chemists to lure young people off alcohol and dangerous legal highs, a group of peers and MPs say today.

"Such drugs should fall into a new 'class D' category that would allow them to be sold legally subject to rules on content, labelling and age restrictions, in a way similar to tobacco and alcohol, according to a report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, which includes former Cabinet ministers from the Conservative and Labour parties.

".. The use of more harmful drugs, such as heroin, should be decriminalised and supplied through government clinics that would focus on treatment, Baroness Meacher, the chairwoman of the group, says. The plans, the most radical yet suggested for drug reform, follow suggestions last month from the Commons Home Affairs Committee that a royal commission be set up to look at far-reaching changes to the drug laws, including decriminalisation."

But will anyone in government actually pay attention to yet another report stating the bleedin' obvious on drugs and the failure of the drug war? Or will ministers just stick it up a high shelf to gather dust with its predecessors?

7) PRIVATISING THE NHS, PART 64

Is this the latest step on the road towards full privatisation of the National Health Service? From the Guardian splash:

"Private companies providing NHS services could be exempt from paying corporation tax on their profits under proposals being considered by a government-commissioned review of competition in the health service, the Guardian has learned.

"Monitor, the NHS's economic regulator, argues that as public sector hospitals do not pay corporation tax and VAT on supplies, whereas private firms do, the result is an ;unfair playing field' in healthcare.

".. Academics say the regulator has been 'captured' by industry. Andrew Street, professor of health economics at the University of York, told the Guardian Monitor had 'been influenced by industry. This looks like pandering to special interests to me. If companies wanted to provide NHS hospital services and not pay tax then they could do so by becoming charities.'"

8) WAR ON THE DISABLED?

More news from the world of welfare 'reform'; from the BBC:

"Thousands of disabled people could lose some benefits because of last-minute changes to the new system of Personal Independence Payments, campaigners say.

The group, We Are Spartacus, says tougher rules to assess how far people can walk mean many claimants will lose help with transport from April."

9) WAR AGAINST THE SHIAS?

From the FT:

"Protests against attacks on Shia Muslims spread across Pakistan yesterday as the prime minister flew to Quetta, where mourners are refusing to bury 96 victims of a bomb attack until they gain protection from Sunni militants.

"The protests were triggered by twin bombings on Thursday targeting Shia ethnic Hazaras in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group claimed responsibility for the attacks.

"The group, whose roots are in the heartland Punjab province, wants to expel the Shias, who make up about a fifth of the population of 180m people.

"Human Rights Watch says more than 400 Shia were killed in sectarian attacks last year."

10) NEWS FROM THE 'VAMPIRE SQUID'

From the FT's splash:

"Goldman Sachs is among a handful of banks considering delaying UK bonus payouts until after April 6 when the top rate of income tax falls from 50 per cent to 45 per cent.

"The bank's plan, which relates to bonuses deferred from 2010, 2011 and 2012, rather than new awards, is expected to prove controversial despite being legal."

Nice move guys..

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll of the year:

Labour 44
Conservatives 31
Ukip 11
Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 124.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@DanHannanMEP Imagine Eric Pickles had said we should stay in the EU even if it were against our national interest. That WOULD have been controversial.

@ShippersUnbound Cameron again using his 'don't believe everything you read in the papers' for: things I said that I wish the papers hadn't found out about

@you_twits Did that guy on BBC News just say "The conflict in Mali has become a Mecca for Islamic extremists" ??? Errrrrrrr try again.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Gaby Hinsliff, writing in the Guardian, says: "Britain's new working-class pride could be a bonus for Labour."

Steve Webb MP, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says: "The system we launch today will give workers the help they need in planning for retirement."

Damian McBride, writing in the Independent, says: "Sorry Steve Hilton, there's no excuse for Cameron not to know what his own policies are."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Stop the violence, Pakistani Shias say

Pakistani Shia Muslims marching during a demo in Lahore on January 11, 2013.

Tens of thousands of Pakistani Shia Muslims have staged demonstrations across the country to condemn Thursday’s massacre in the southwestern city of Quetta.

More than 90 Pakistanis lost their lives in twin bomb attacks that targeted Shia Muslims in a crowded billiard hall in Quetta.

Two other bomb attacks were carried out in Pakistan on Thursday -- one in the Swat Valley and one more in Quetta - that left a total of 130 people dead and nearly 300 injured. The outlawed terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the billiard hall attack.

On Saturday and Friday, demonstrations were held in the cities of Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Khairpur, Multan, Muzaffarabad, and many other cities and towns across the country.

The gatherings were organized by the Imamia Student Organization (ISO), the All Pakistan Shia Action Committee (APSAC), and Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan (MWMP).

The demonstrators shouted slogans against the government and criticized Pakistan’s security forces for failing to provide security to the country’s Shia Muslims.

They also denounced the Saudi Arabian policy of funding extremist groups that commit acts of violence against Muslims in Pakistan.

In addition, the protesters called on the government to take immediate action against the forces involved in the sectarian killings and said more demonstrations would be staged if justice is not served.

A demonstration was also held outside the High Commission for Pakistan in London, where protesters chanted slogans condemning the Shia killings in the South Asian country.

In Quetta, Shia leaders and the relatives of the billiard hall attack victims demanded that the military take control of the city to protect them and said they would not allow the victims to be buried until their demands are met.

Human rights groups have vehemently criticized the Pakistani government for its failure to stem the rising tide of violence against the country’s Shia Muslims.

On Friday, the Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch also commented the issue.

“2012 was the bloodiest year for Pakistan’s Shia community in living memory and if this latest attack is any indication, 2013 has started on an even more dismal note,” Ali Dayan Hasan said.

“As Shia community members continue to be slaughtered in cold blood, the callousness and indifference of authorities offers a damning indictment of the state, its military, and security agencies,” Hasan said.

“Pakistan’s tolerance for religious extremists is not just destroying lives and alienating entire communities, it is destroying Pakistani society across the board,” he added.

GJH/HGL

Amnesty International’s Propaganda against Pakistan

pak

by Abdullah Mansoor

Human rights watchdog, Amnesty International (AI), in its new report titled “The Hands of Cruelty – Abuses by Armed Forces and Taliban in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas” claimed that millions of people in Pakistan’s north-western tribal areas were locked in perpetual lawlessness where human rights were allegedly violated by Pakistan armed forces.

A diminutive portion of the report also blamed the Taliban and other armed militant groups for killing thousands of civilians in indiscriminate attacks. The report was based on more than 100 testimonies from victims of human rights violations in detention, witnesses, relatives, lawyers, representatives of Pakistani authorities and armed groups.

Pakistan military and foreign ministry spokespersons rejected the report as a biased document and termed it as a part of sinister propaganda campaign against Pakistan and its armed forces.

A first glance at the report gives an impression that both the Pakistan Army and the Taliban are violating human rights in the tribal areas. However, its critical analysis reveals that the report is a sequel of international hostile elements’ propaganda against Pakistan’s security institutions, which is launched with the sole aim to malign Pakistani security forces and discredit military operations in the tribal areas.

To serve this malicious purpose, exaggerated stories of individuals victimized by armed forces are blown out of proportion to validate the propaganda claim. A deep insight into the report also reflects that militants’ inhuman activities are inappropriately discussed, whereas criticism against them is deliberately incorporated in the report to increase its authenticity and project it as an unbiased investigation. The report overlooks accounts of various inhabitants of tribal areas, who opposed terrorists’ radical beliefs and consequently experienced their cruelty. Thus, the report can be termed as biased and one-sided.

Such a misinformation against Pakistan Army is not something new, as ever since the advent of war on terror in Afghan-Pak region, Pakistan is being fallaciously maligned for allegedly providing sanctuaries to terrorists, being involved in extra judicial killings in KPK and FATA or forced disappearances in Balochistan. But, in reality, Pakistan Army is fighting for the survival of Pakistan and protecting its people from hostile elements in tribal areas, while its personnel are sacrificing their lives for the global cause of eradicating terrorism and extremism from this region. Yet ironically, both sides of the picture are never shown by such so-called human rights organizations that are working in accordance with their nefarious objective of undermining Pakistan’s efforts in war on terror.

Amnesty International claims that it is an internationally recognized human rights organization and independent of any government, political ideology, economic interests or religion, has proved categorically false. A well-reputed geopolitical researcher, Tony Cartalucci writes in his article on infowars.com that “AI is in fact one of the greatest obstacles to real human rights advocacy on earth. Its funds are not only run by governments, but the organization is also entwined with political ideology and economic interests. UK Department for International Development continued to fund a four-year human rights education project of AI in Africa, while the European Commission also awarded it with a multi-year grant for education work in Europe.

Amnesty’s leadership also tells its true agenda; Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of AI’s USA chapter, was drawn directly from the US State Department, which utterly contradicts Amnesty’s claims of being “independent” of governments’ interests. Nossel also promotes US foreign policy regarding Iran, Syria and Libya behind AI’s logo.

A glance at AmnestyUSA.org also reveals that at each and every front the US State Department is currently working on and has prioritized, is also coincidentally being prioritized by AI.”
Ordinary people are given the false impression that “someone is watching out” for human rights abuses, but in reality, AI is managing public perception of selective global human rights abuses, fabricating and/or manipulating many cases specifically to suit its agenda. For instance, Pakistan Army is in no comparison with the human rights violations by the US military in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghareb and Bagram Jails, yet their plight is seldom highlighted at the international level. The US, a major proponent of human rights in the world, carried out heinous crimes and massive human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where thousands of innocent civilians were killed in unprovoked air strikes.

Organizations like AI must raise voice for the detainees of Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan prisons, who have complained of enduring beatings, sleep deprivation, prolonged constraints in uncomfortable positions, prolonged hooding, and other physical and psychological mistreatment by the US forces. Moreover, it is imperative that all human rights organizations advocate transparency and project both sides of the picture without singling out a particular group, faction or country so that people may become able to distinguish between illusion and reality.

‘Guantanamo creates deep wounds’ — former detainees

The flag over a war crimes courtroom in Camp Justice at US Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba (Reuters / Michelle Shephard / Pool)

(13.3Mb) embed video

Guantanamo Bay is sending a very disturbing signal to the world as it legalizes torture, say former detainees. In an interview with RT they shared their painful memories and the feeling of guilt facing the innocent people imprisoned.

Former Guantanamo detainee, Bisher Amin Khalil Al-Rawi, 52, is an Iraqi citizen who became a UK resident in 1980s. He was held in Guantanamo from 2002 to 2007. Al-Rawi argues that he was arrested by the Gambian National Intelligence Agency while on a business trip in Banjul Airport. He was then turned over to US authorities and transferred to Guantanamo Bay. He was held under suspicion of having links with Al-Qaeda.

Al-Rawi tells RT that he still feels guilt in front of those other prisoners who have been cleared off, but still remain in Guantanamo.

Bisher Amin Khalil Al-Rawi
Bisher Amin Khalil Al-Rawi

­“I do not know why I was released and others were not, especially when you know that people who have been cleared still remain in Guantanamo. At the time when I was released I do not know whether I was cleared or not. And I think one cannot but feel uncomfortable and that guilt is lingering in you. Why am I out and they are still in there?”

“Dictators are pressing people, we all know that, but oppression from countries that have put themselves forward as the leaders of the free world, I think oppression from them should not be tolerated. The UK is my country, it is my home, but I think the government can do much more to help. The US needs to be reminded of the wrongs that it is committing.”

Former Guantanamo detainee Omar Deghayes, 43, is a Libyan citizen with residency status in the UK. He was held in Gitmo for five years from 2002 to 2007. Deghayes was arrested in Pakistan and then taken into US military custody and sent to Guantanamo.  After his release he was returned to Britain, but was arrested under a Spanish warrant. In 2008 the extradition attempts were dropped.

Omar Deghayes
Omar Deghayes

Deghayes believes that the message US is sending by enforcing torture is very disturbing and says it creates deep wounds that are not healed easily.

“I have been released now for four years, since December 2007. But the memories of Guantanamo are very clear because of what had happened. The mistreatment does not go away easily. It does create a deep wound that will last a long time. When we talk about Guantanamo, these things do come back.”

“The message that Guantanamo sends to the world is very disturbing and very serious [and] has to be opposed and spoken against. In the US the people who committed the crimes which legalized and engineered torture in Guantanamo not only have not been prosecuted or accounted for what they had committed, but they are at large campaigning very powerfully with media – and now film – to justify and make torture acceptable to the American public at large. Such a message is very dangerous and has to be opposed.”

Human rights lawyer Saghir Hussain talked about Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer, who is a Saudi Arabian citizen and the last British resident held at Gitmo. Aamer was cleared for release by the Bush administration in 2007 and the Obama administration in 2009, but remains in detention.

Saghir Hussain
Saghir Hussain

“The promise [to bring Shaker Aamer back home] has not been fulfilled and that is very disappointing and we urge the British government to fulfill the promise made to the former detainees, who despite their own personal emotional sufferings are strongly concerned about Shaker Aamer and the fact that he is still not back.”

Hussain also spoke out against the ‘Secret Justice’ bill that would allow national security evidence to be heard behind closed court doors.

“[The] Secret Justice bill would allow a Secretary of State to tell the judge what is secret and what is not. So there is no judicial oversight as to what can be open in court.”

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: 1% For You, 32% For Us

The ten things you need to know on Friday 11 January 2013...

1% FOR YOU, 32% FOR US

Who says MPs are out of touch, eh? From the Mirror's splash:

"Grasping MPs sparked fury yesterday - by demanding a £20,000 pay rise.

"A poll showed 69% thought their £65,738 salary was not enough.

"Just days after capping benefits and branding hard-up families scroungers, they whined that they should get an average 32% increase."

That would take their salary to £86,250. According to the Guardian, the survey of MPs carried out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) found that Conservatives - the guys and girls behind the below-inflation 1% rise in benefits - were "the most likely to believe they were underpaid, with 47% saying so, while 39% of Labour MPs and 9% of Liberal Democrats held the same view".

Personally, I think there is a case to be made for higher salaries for MPs - but clearly now is not the time to make it. It's difficult to disagree with Unison's Dave Prentis: "At a time when millions of workers are getting zero pay rises, the idea that MPs believe they deserve a 32 per cent increase is living in cloud cuckoo land."

2) HERE COME THE GERMANS

First, Barack, now Angela. From the Times:

"David Cameron's hopes of negotiating looser ties between Britain and Brussels are all but impossible, according to an ally of Angela Merkel.

"Gunther Krichbaum, chairman of the Bundestag's European Affairs Committee, said that the Prime Minister's strategy was unwise and risked opening a Pandora's box that would threaten European stability.

"He also urged Mr Cameron not to "blackmail" the rest of Europe with threats as he tries win opt-outs from EU treaties."

The paper notes how his intervention comes "after President Obama's Assistant Secretary of State for Europe warned that Britain would be diminished in America's eyes if it marginalised itself within the EU.

"The flurry of diplomatic activity underlines the high stakes for Mr Cameron and his Europe policy with Britain's closest allies. The Prime Minister will promise a referendum in the next Parliament on a new relationship with the EU in a speech this month."

However, the Sun reports that

"David Cameron will hit back at President Obama’s attack on his EU referendum plan by unveiling a major European ally — the Dutch.

"The Sun has learned the PM will spell out his vision of a post-crisis Europe on January 22.

"And he will almost certainly make the speech in The Hague. Dutch leader Mark Rutte will back his bid to fight for powers and money to be returned to nation states."

3) GIVE MONEY, GET A JOB

You could not make this up. From the Independent:

"A Conservative Party donor and venture capitalist whose charity funds two academy schools was appointed an education minister today.

"Labour raised questions about a possible conflict of interest after John Nash was named as the successor to Lord Hill of Oareford, who was promoted to Leader of the Lords on Monday following the surprise resignation of Lord Strathclyde.

"Mr Nash, his family and companies have donated about £300,000 to the Conservatives since the mid-1980s. The charity he founded, Future, sponsors the Pimlico Academy and Millbank Primary Academy in London. He is a former chairman of the British Venture Capital Association."

Nash will be made a peer but won't take a salary and won't take any decisions in which his charity is involved.

Well, that's okay then.

4) BLAIR'S BANKING UNION

There was a time, not so long ago, when Tony Blair had to make do with a modest MP's salary.

Nowadays, however, as the Times reports, the ex-premier is able to do things like this:

"Tony Blair is in talks about a commercial alliance with one of the most highly paid bankers in the world.

"The combination would bring together Michael Klein's unrivalled contacts in global finance with the former Prime Minister's relationships in politics and government, particularly in the Middle East.

"The discussions, which could lead to a merger of their companies, highlight Mr Blair's ambitions for his commercial operations, which generate millions of pounds a year from advising governments and companies around the world.

The paper says "Mr Klein was co-head of Citigroup's investment bank, which made billions of dollars of losses on holdings of mortgage securities in the financial crisis".

A shameless alliance? You tell me.

5) 'SOCIAL ENGINEERING'

The former defence secretary and darling of the Tory right, Dr Liam Fox, has written a letter to 60 constituents. So what, I hear you ask?

Let the Daily Mail explain:

"Liam Fox has become the most prominent Conservative yet to announce that he will vote against gay marriage.

"The former defence secretary dismissed David Cameron's 'absurd' plans as a form of 'social engineering' that is 'divisive, ill-thought through and constitutionally wrong'.

"In a letter seen by the Daily Mail, Dr Fox said same-sex unions will alienate Conservative Party members and weaken the Church.

"He warned that pressing ahead with plans to introduce gay marriage is enraging 'sections of the British public who are not normally stirred to political anger', and called for a rethink before 'things get out of hand'."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR..

Watch this video of two cats sharing one bowl of food. Go on, you know you want to..

6) PHONE HACKING, PART 557

The Guardian splashes on "the first hacking conviction":

"Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, 53, was found guilty of misconduct in public office at Southwark crown court after the jury decided she had tried to sell information from the phone-hacking inquiry, which was set up in 2010, to the News of the World."

Meanwhile, my colleague Ned Simons reports:

"The government will look 'absurd' if it rejects the Leveson Report’s recommendations for the regulation of the press in favour of a Royal Charter, a former chairman of the Conservative Party has said.

"Lord Fowler, also a former chairman of the House of Lords Communications Committee, has urged David Cameron to reverse his opposition to Lord Justice wrLeveson’s suggestion for the statuatory underpinning of the independent self-regulation of the press.

"On Friday peers will debate the Leveson Report, the recommendations of which has split parliament, the coalition and the Tory party down the middle."

7) WERE THE CURTAINS DRAWN, MATTHEW?

From the Daily Mail:

"Skills Minister Matthew Hancock missed his chance to publicise a flagship policy to help unemployed youths become more employable - by oversleeping.

"The red-faced minister was spurned by ITV's Daybreak after he was late for his primetime breakfast slot just before 7am.

"He has admitted that he could not get out of bed on time, despite the broadcaster sending a chauffeur-driven executive car to get him from his West London home."

8) 'THE RAPE OF JUSTICE'

A shocking story on the front of the Independent (with an eye-catching infographic as its image):

"Fewer than one rape victim in 30 can expect to see her or his attacker brought to justice, shocking new statistics reveal.

"Only 1,070 rapists are convicted every year despite up to 95,000 people – the vast majority of them women – suffering the trauma of rape – according to the new research by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics.

"The figures have reignited controversy over the stubbornly low conviction rates for sex crimes, as well as the difficulties in persuading victims to go to police in the first place."

9) 'BARBARIC SLAUGHTER'

Is Pakistan's Sunni majority engaged in a war on its Shia minority? From the Guardian:

"The vicious double bombing of a snooker club capped one of the bloodiest days in Pakistan for many months yesterday, leaving more than 100 people dead and hundreds injured in three different attacks.

".. Many of the dead and wounded, Murtaza said, were from the Shia sect of Islam, which extremist groups drawn from Pakistan's majority Sunni population regard as heretics.

"Shias, many of whom are members of the Hazara ethnic community in Quetta, have been particularly targeted by sectarian terror groups. Human Rights Watch said the government's failure to protect Shias 'amounts to complicity in the barbaric slaughter of Pakistani citizens.'"

10) 'ONESIE NATION' LIB DEMS

'Call Clegg' on LBC yesterday morning didn't go so well for the deputy prime minister. Even though he had a little 'help' from his friends..

From the Daily Mail:

"After half an hour of tough questioning, Nick Clegg must have been relieved to get a light-hearted question about whether he had worn a onesie.

"But caller 'Harry from Sheffield', was later unmasked as Harry Matthews, 20, a Liberal Democrat student activist and former intern in Mr Clegg's office - who bought the outfit for him.

".. He describes himself online as 'King of the Young Liberals', and gave Mr Clegg the green Incredible Hulk onesie at a party.

"Speaking afterwards, Mr Clegg denied the call was a stunt, saying: 'Of course I had no idea who the guy was.'"

Nick Clegg's 'Incredible Hulk onesie' can be seen here.

The Huffington Post UK's picture desk has done a mock-up of Clegg wearing his green onesie here.

“My core philosophy," the Lib Dem leader joked in front of the parliamentary press gallery lunch yesterday, "is of the Onesie Nation"

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 10

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@DavidJonesMP Huge gap in my zeitgeist awareness. Until today I didn't know what a onesie was and thought it was pronounced "oh-kneesy".

@StewartWood Big paradox for UK Eurosceptics that their view that EU membership holds back our engagement with US & China is not shared by the US & China

@caitlinmoran Nadine Dorries: "The teenagers ask me a lot of questions now." "What about?" Unspoken answer: what it's like eating balls. #bbcqt

900 WORDS OR MORE

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "If David Cameron wants to win in 2015 he must find a big problem to take on. Championing care of the elderly fits the bill."

Menzies Campbell, writing in the Guardian, says: "Britain's future in Europe must be defined by its national interests, not those of the Conservative party."

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The Tories have a moral mission – and David Cameron should say so."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Guest Post: Where Does The Hatred Of Constitutionalism Come From?

Submitted by Brandon Smith of Alt-Market blog

Where Does The Hatred Of Constitutionalism Come From?

The Constitution of the United States is an undeniably powerful document.  So powerful in fact, that it took establishment elitists with aspirations of globalized governance over a century to diminish the American people’s connection to it.  It’s been a long time coming, but in the new millennium, there is now indeed a subsection of the masses that not only have no relationship to our founding roots, they actually despise those of us who do!

There are a number of reasons for this dangerous development in our culture:  A public school system that rarely if ever teaches children about the revolution, the founders, constitutional liberty, or the virtues of individualism in general.  A mainstream media apparatus that has regurgitated endless anti-constitutional shlock for decades, attacking any person or group that presents a freedom oriented view.  And a governmental structure that has become so corrupt, so openly criminal, that they ignore all aspects of constitutional law without regard, rarely feeling the need to explain themselves.  As a people, we are surrounded daily by the low droning wash-talk of denigration and disdain for our principled foundations.  The wretched ghosts of collectivism and tyranny mumble in our ears from birth to death.  It’s truly a miracle that every man and woman in this nation has not succumbed to the mind numbing hypnotism…

However, our propaganda soaked environment is not the ONLY cause of our self destructive society; many people are themselves to blame.  Severe character flaws and psychological imbalances have left some open to suggestion, manipulation, and fraud.  Their hatred, though fueled in part by the socialization of the establishment, is still theirs to own.

The brutal ignorance on display in mainstream circles against the liberty-minded needs to be addressed.  In my view, the American public is being conditioned to see us as a convenient “enemy” which they can use to project all their internal grief and woe.  Our country is on the verge of collapse, economically, politically, and philosophically.  Corporatized elements of our government and the financial high priests of the international banking sector are behind this calamity, and of course, they don’t plan to take responsibility.  Who better to demonize as the catalyst for all the pain that is coming than the only people who have the awareness and the means to stand against the catastrophe?    

There is no doubt in my mind that a great conflict is near, between those of us who value liberty and constitutional protections, and those who would destroy them.  This battle is unlikely to be solved with words.  The anti-constitutionalist rhetoric is becoming so ruthless, so malicious, that it can only lead to a hardening of our own hearts, and an equally forceful response.

Most of us have seen all the mainstream magazines with front page headlines calling for the retirement of the Constitution.  Most of us know about the suggestions by media entities and political opportunists (including Joe Biden) for Barack Obama to bypass congress and the Constitution, implementing possible gun restriction, registration, and confiscation through “executive order” like a common dictator.  There is an obviously brash and violent effort amongst political players today to mold our government into a godlike entity.  But, this is not what concerns me most.  What concerns me is the subversive boiling poison that is leaking into our culture at the local level, creating freedom hating zombies.  Take, for instance, the anti-constitutionalist crusade by a New Hampshire representative against the New Hampshire Free State Project:

What causes someone to hate freedom-loving people so much that they would destroy their own liberties just to drive us away?  Is this not cutting off their own nose just to spite OUR face?  Or, do they even see the loss of freedom for themselves as a bad thing?

And how about Marine Corporal Joshua Boston, who after sending a letter to Dianne Feinstein stating he would not comply with unconstitutional gun restrictions, is now receiving death threats because of his membership in the NRA:

What is the source of the hatred towards constitutionalists?  Where does it originate?  Here are just some of the personal triggers and methodologies within the mind of the anti-freedom advocate which I believe have sullied them beyond repair…

The Anti-Constitutionalist Suffers From An Inferiority Complex

I have found in my role as a Liberty Movement analyst and through literally tens of thousands of debates that anti-constitution advocates are, for the most part, of limited intelligence.  These are the average useful idiots who know little of history, politics, economics, etc., but feel the desperate need to appear as though they are experts on everything.  This usually results in constant attempts to show off for anyone who will pay attention, usually with sound-bites they heard on the nightly news coupled with remedial attacks against the character of those who dare to step outside the mainstream. 

The problem is that deep down, they know they are not very bright.  And so, they seek to always travel with the herd on every issue, for if they cannot be smart, they can at least be accepted.  Ironically, if constitutionalism was being pushed by the mainstream, they would automatically change their tune. 

It is probable that they have run into a Liberty Movement proponent (most of whom are well versed in history, politics, and economics) at least once in their lives, went in for an attack, and were utterly destroyed.  Their inferiority exposed, they learn to detest anything associated with constitutionalism.         

The Anti-Constitutionalist Does Not Like The Idea Of A Law He Cannot Use To His Advantage

Not all anti-constitutionalists are dense.  A limited few are very intelligent, but morally bankrupt.  The Constitution is not just a legal document; it is also an emotional and spiritual document.  If one does not have a relationship with his own conscience and the concept of natural law, then he will discover little in the founding ideals of America that he agrees with.  Some people (usually corrupt politicians and judges) see the law as a weapon to be used against their ideological opponents, whereas constitutionalists see the law as a shield to protect us from such despots.  The Constitution and the Bill Of Rights are both designed to protect our Absolute Freedoms.  That is, freedoms that are inborn and which no person or government is qualified to give as a gift, or take as if they are a privilege.

Nothing angers those who seek power more than a legal framework which they are not allowed to touch, or shift, or “tweak” to suit their private ambitions.      

Constitutional protections are not meant to be subject to the “buts” and “what ifs” common in the lesser legal world.  They are not open to debate.  Our rights are not subject to the demands of the so-called “majority”.  Our rights are eternal, and unchangeable.  Anti-constitutionalists attempt to work around the absolutes of the document by implementing subversive law backed by flawed logic.  But, a law which destroys previous constitutional rights is not a law which any individual American is required to follow.  Even an amendment that undermines our civil liberties is not legally binding.  The freedoms put forth in the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights are SET IN STONE (and this includes the right to bear arms in common use of the military of our day).  They cannot be undone without destroying the very fabric of the republic.

The Anti-Constitutionalist Hates Those Who Go Against The Tide, Even If The Tide Is Drowning Us All

Some people are predisposed to be followers.  They do not want to take responsibility for their futures or even their own actions.  They do not like questions.  They do not like dilemmas.  They want to be left to wallow in their own private prisons, where they are comfortably enslaved.

I remember participating in an End The Fed rally in Pittsburgh in early 2008 which was, like most activist rallies, meant to expose the uneducated public to ideas they may not have heard before.  I found it interesting that around a quarter of the people who strolled by our picket line automatically sneered, as if by reflex, even though they had probably never heard our position, or even heard of the Fed.  It dawned on me that they were not angered by our political or economic views.  Instead they were angered by the mere fact that we were there.  We were vocal, and defiant, and a disruption to their daily robot-like routine.  They hated us because we were ruining their fantasy of disconnectedness. 

Constitutionalists are predominantly individualists.  We do not cater to collectivist fairy tales.  We do not seek to roll with the tide just for the sake of finding our “place” within the machine.  We do not care about “fitting in” with the mainstream.  This is often confounding and infuriating to those who have labored their whole lives to please “the group”.  They accuse us of being “isolationists” in response.  What they do not comprehend is that illusion and delusion have isolated THEM, while the truth has brought constitutionalists together. 

Constitutionalists Are Not Politically Correct

For the past few decades our society has become engrossed with the idea of “proper language and behavior”.  Of course, their idea of “proper” usually involves ignoring the reality of a thing.  For a Constitutionalist, a spade is a spade, and we tend to call it like we see it.  We don’t bother ourselves with superficial niceties that get in the way of legitimate debate or legitimate change.  We are not “pleasant” and tolerant with those who would kill our freedoms.   We do not pull punches.

We are direct, and sometimes, brutal in our analysis. 

In some parts of the Western world (especially the UK) language has become a game, a game of self censorship and deceit.  This game has made its way to the United States in recent years, and Constitutionalists don’t play.  We know that every overtly collectivist society begins with the fear of open expression.  And so, our blunt honesty rattles those invested in the PC culture.  Their ultimate and ideal revenge would be to see us painted as social malcontents; like people who smoke in public, or wear a mullet…

Constitutionalists Are Passionate In Their Beliefs

A large percentage of men and women in this world have never been truly passionate about anything.  They simply eat, breath, and defecate their way through life, scrounging about the squalor of a broken system for whatever brief moments of comfort they can find.  They have never explored their inner workings or suffered the hardship of individuation.  They have never been forced to seek out an inner strength, a personal treasure, which guides them to a greater purpose.  Everything they think they believe in has been conditioned into them.  Their uniqueness is suppressed, and their characters shallow.  They have never loved an idea, or a principle.

Constitutionalists LOVE liberty and the mechanics of freedom.  We love the values of a sovereign republic and the opportunities that such a system provides when collectivists are removed from the picture.  There is no question or doubt in our minds; we would fight and die to protect the pillars of the Constitution. 

When confronted with this kind of passion, the average person is shocked and sometimes appalled.  The idea of unshakable will is frightening to them.  They are so used to compromising in every aspect of their lives that when they run into an uncompromising man, they reel in horror. 

That which they see as “fanaticism” is instead an excitement, a boundless joy, a fervent desire to protect something universal and precious.  What they see as “extreme”, we see as essential.

The Anti-Constitutionalist Thinks He Knows What’s Best For All Of Us

Most people who seek to deny and destroy constitutional liberties tend to lean towards a collectivist philosophy.  They are usually socialist, or a variation (Marxist, Fascist), and can be professed members of either major political party.  They believe that their vision of a perfect cultural system is the “correct” vision.  They see the Constitution as “archaic” or “outdated”.  They see it as nothing more than an obstacle to progress which must be toppled.

The “perfect world” that the collectivist strives for functions on centralization: the removal of options until there are no choices left for the common man except those which the collectivist wants him to have.  This world usually suffers from limited free speech, limited civic participation, zero tolerance for dissent, near zero privacy from government eyes, a completely disarmed populous, unaccountable leadership, and the encouragement of informer networks and betrayal for profit.  The goal is to intimidate the whole of a nation into dependence on the system, until every necessity from food to self defense is parceled out by the state.  

Collectivists understand one thing very clearly; an America without the Constitution is destined to become a centralized country. 

They will, of course, claim this is a gross exaggeration.  They will claim that this time will be different.  That the collectivist experiments of the past, which produced nothing but destruction and genocide of their own populations, are nothing similar to what they are espousing.  They will pretend as if their vision is new, progressive, and far more practical than the vision of the Founding Fathers.   In the end though, all they are promoting is a system as old as history; the feudal kingdom.  The mercantile oligarchy.  The militarized state.

At the height of their vicious sabotage of the republic, they will demonize our very heritage, claiming that it was a sham.  That we were never able to “live up to our beliefs anyway”.  That we are “hypocrites”, and this somehow negates the reverence we give to the Constitution.  Unfortunately for them, we know better.  We understand that the principles of the Constitution are not something we grasp at all times, but rather, something to which we aspire to, and grow into as our nation matures.  They require patience, and wisdom.  They force us to question our own “brilliance”, and our own egos.  They anchor us, preventing us from being swept away in the storms of fear.

There has never been and there will never be a better method of law and governance than that method which defends the individualism and freedom of the people.  The most fantastic of human accomplishments, in technology as well as in philosophy, spring from the nurturing waters of liberty.  Free minds and hearts create.  They refuse to be contained, and the Constitution gives us license to ensure that they will never be contained, even to the point of revolution. 

To deny constitutionalism, is to endorse oppression.  May we forever rebel against the agents of “progress”.  May we forever give them something to hate.

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Learning to Love Torture, Zero Dark Thirty-Style

Seven easy, onscreen steps to making US torture and detention policies once again palatable.

On January 11th, 11 years to the day after the Bush administration opened its notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s deeply flawed movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, opens nationwide. The filmmakers and distributors are evidently ignorant of the significance of the date -- a perfect indication of the carelessness and thoughtlessness of the film, which will unfortunately substitute for actual history in the minds of many Americans.

The sad fact is that Zero Dark Thirty could have been written by the tight circle of national security advisors who counseled President George W. Bush to create the post-9/11 policies that led to Guantanamo, the global network of borrowed “black sites” that added up to an offshore universe of injustice, and the grim torture practices -- euphemistically known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” -- that went with them.  It’s also a film that those in the Obama administration who have championed non-accountability for such shameful policies could and (evidently did) get behind. It might as well be called Back to the Future, Part IV, for the film, like the country it speaks to, seems stuck forever in that time warp moment of revenge and hubris that swept the country just after 9/11.

As its core, Bigelow’s film makes the bald-faced assertion that torture did help the United States track down the perpetrator of 9/11. Zero Dark Thirty -- for anyone who doesn’t know by now -- is the story of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA agent who believes that information from a detainee named Ammar will lead to bin Laden. After weeks, maybe months of torture, he does indeed provide a key bit of information that leads to another piece of information that leads… well, you get the idea. Eventually, the name of bin Laden’s courier is revealed. From the first mention of his name, Maya dedicates herself to finding him, and he finally leads the CIA to the compound where bin Laden is hiding.  Of course, you know how it all ends.

However compelling the heroine’s determination to find bin Laden may be, the fact is that Bigelow has bought in, hook, line, and sinker, to the ethos of the Bush administration and its apologists. It’s as if she had followed an old government memo and decided to offer in fictional form step-by-step instructions for the creation, implementation, and selling of Bush-era torture and detention policies.

Here, then, are the seven steps that bring back the Bush administration and should help Americans learn how to love torture, Bigelow-style.

First, Rouse Fear. From its opening scene, Zero Dark Thirty equates our post-9/11 fears with the need for torture. The movie begins in darkness with the actual heartbreaking cries and screams for help of people trapped inside the towers of the World Trade Center: “I’m going to die, aren’t I?... It’s so hot. I’m burning up...” a female voice cries out. As those voices fade, the black screen yields to a full view of Ammar being roughed up by men in black ski masks and then strung up, arms wide apart.

The sounds of torture replace the desperate pleas of the victims. “Is he ever getting out?” Maya asks. “Never,” her close CIA associate Dan (Jason Clarke) answers.  These are meant to be words of reassurance in response to the horrors of 9/11. Bigelow’s first step, then, is to echo former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s mantra from that now-distant moment in which he claimed the nation needed to go to “the dark side.”  That was part of his impassioned demand that, given the immense threat posed by al-Qaeda, going beyond the law was the only way to seek retribution and security.

Bigelow also follows Cheney’s lead into a world of fear.  The Bush administration understood that, for their global dreams, including a future invasion of Iraq, to become reality, fear was their best ally. From Terre Haute to El Paso, Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, Americans were to be regularly reminded that they were deeply and eternally endangered by terrorists.

Bigelow similarly keeps the fear monitor bleeping whenever she can. Interspersed with the narrative of the bin Laden chase, she provides often blood-filled footage from terrorist attacks around the globe in the decade after 9/11: the 2004 bombings of oil installations in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that killed 22; the 2005 suicide bombings in London that killed 56; the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad that killed 54 people; and the thwarted Times Square bombing of May, 2010. We are in constant jeopardy, she wants us to remember, and uses Maya to remind us of this throughout.

Second, Undermine the Law. Torture is illegal under both American and international law.  It was only pronounced “legal” in a series of secret memorandums produced by the Bush Justice Department and approved at the highest levels of the administration. (Top officials, including Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, evidently even had torture techniques demonstrated for them in the White House before green-lighting them.)  Maintaining that there was no way Americans could be kept safe via purely legal methods, they asked for and were given secret legal authority to make torture the go-to option in their Global War on Terror. Yet Bigelow never even nods toward this striking rethinking of the law. She assumes the legality of the acts she portrays up close and personal, only hedging her bets toward the movie’s end when she indicates in passing that the legal system was a potential impediment to getting bin Laden. “Who the hell am I supposed to ask [for confirmation about the courier], some guy at Gitmo who’s all lawyered up?” asks Obama’s national security advisor in the filmic run-up to the raid.

Just as new policies were put in place to legalize torture, so the detention of terror suspects without charges or trials (including people who, we now know, were treated horrifically despite being innocent of anything) became a foundational act of the administration. Specifically, government lawyers were employed to create particularly tortured (if you’ll excuse the word) legal documents exempting detainees from the Geneva Conventions, thus enabling their interrogation under conditions that blatantly violated domestic and international laws.

Zero Dark Thirty accepts without hesitation or question the importance of this unconstitutional detention policy as crucial to the torture program. From the very first days of the war on terror, the U.S. government rounded up individuals globally and began to question them brutally. Whether they actually had information to reveal, whether the government had any concrete evidence against them, they held hundreds -- in the end, thousands -- of detainees in U.S. custody at secret CIA black sites worldwide, in the prisons of allied states known for their own torture policies, at Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan, and of course at Guantanamo, which was the crown jewel of the Bush administration’s offshore detention system.

Dan and Maya themselves not only travel to secret black sites to obtain valuable information from detainees, but to the cages and interrogation booths at Bagram where men in those now-familiar orange jumpsuits are shown awaiting a nightmare experience.  Bigelow's film repeatedly suggests that it was crucially important for national security to keep a pool of potential information sources -- those detainees -- available just in case they might one day turn out to have information.

Third, Indulge in the Horror: Torture is displayed onscreen in what can only be called pornographic detail for nearly the film’s first hour. In this way, Zero Dark Thirty eerily mimics the obsessive, essentially fetishistic approach of Bush’s top officials to the subject.  Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney's former Chief of Staff David Addington, and John Yoo from the Office of Legal Counsel, among others, plunged into the minutiae of “enhanced interrogation” tactics, micro-managing just what levels of abuse should and should not apply, would and would not constitute torture after 9/11.

In black site after black site, on victim after victim, the movie shows acts of torture in exquisite detail, Bigelow’s camera seeming to relish its gruesomeness: waterboarding, stress positions, beatings, sleep deprivation resulting in memory loss and severe disorientation, sexual humiliation, containment in a small box, and more. Whenever she gets the chance, Bigelow seems to take the opportunity to suggest that this mangling of human flesh and immersion in brutality on the part of Americans is at least understandable and probably worthwhile.  The film’s almost subliminal message on the subject of torture should remind us of the way in which a form of sadism-as-patriotic-duty filtered down to the troops on the ground, as evidenced by the now infamous 2004 photos from Abu Ghraib of smiling American soldiers offering thumbs-up responses to their ability to humiliate and hurt captives in dog collars.

Fourth, Dehumanize the Victims. Like the national security establishment that promoted torture policies, Bigelow dehumanizes her victims. Despite repeated beatings, humiliations, and aggressive torture techniques of various sorts, Ammar never becomes even a faintly sympathetic character to anyone in the film. As a result, there is never anyone for the audience to identify with who becomes emotionally distraught over the abuses. Dehumanization was a necessary tool in promoting torture; now, it is a necessary tool in promotingZero Dark Thirty, which desensitizes its audience in ways that should be frightening to us and make us wonder who exactly we have become in the years since 9/11.

Fifth, Never Doubt That Torture Works.  Given all this, it’s a small step to touting the effectiveness of torture in eliciting the truth. “In the end, everybody breaks, bro’: it’s biology,” Dan says to his victim.  He also repeats over and over, “If you lie to me, I hurt you” -- meaning, “If I hurt you, you won’t lie to me.” Maya concurs, telling Ammar, bruised, bloodied, and begging for her help, that he can stop his pain by telling the truth.

How many times does the American public need to be told that torture did notyield the results the government promised? How many times does it need to be said that waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, 183 times obviously didn’t work? How many times does it need to be pointed out that torture can -- and did -- produce misleading or false information, notably in the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the Libyan who ran an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and who confessed under torture that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?    

Sixth, Hold No One Accountable. The Obama administration made the determination that holding Bush administration figures, CIA officials, or the actual torturers responsible for what they did in a court of law was far more trouble than it might ever be worth. Instead, the president chose to move onand officially never look back. Bigelow takes advantage of this passivity to suggest to her audience that the only downside of torture is the fear of accountability. As he prepares to leave Pakistan, Dan tells Maya, “You gotta be real careful with the detainees now. Politics are changing and you don’t want to be the last one holding the dog collar when the oversight committee comes…”

The sad truth is that Zero Dark Thirty could not have been produced in its present form if any of the officials who created and implemented U.S. torture policy had been held accountable for what happened, or any genuine sunshine had been thrown upon it. With scant public debate and no public record of accountability, Bigelow feels free to leave out even a scintilla of criticism of that torture program. Her film is thus one more example of the fact that without accountability, the pernicious narrative continues, possibly gaining traction as it does.

Seventh, Employ the Media. While the Bush administration had the Fox television series 24 as a weekly reminder that torture keeps us safe, the current administration, bent on its no-accountability policy, has Bigelow’s film on its side. It’s the perfect piece of propaganda, with all the appeal that naked brutality, fear, and revenge can bring.

Hollywood and most of its critics have embraced the film. It has already been named among the best films of the year, and is considered a shoe-in for Oscar nominations. Hollywood, that one-time bastion of liberalism, has provided the final piece in the perfect blueprint for the whitewashing of torture policy.  If that isn’t a happily-ever-after ending, what is?

The Grilling that Brennan Deserves

As Washington’s pundit class sees it, Defense Secretary-designee Chuck Hagel deserves a tough grilling over his hesitancy to go to war with Iran and his controversial detection of a pro-Israel lobby operating in the U.S. capital, but prospective CIA Director John Brennan should get only a few polite queries about his role helping to create and sustain Dick Cheney’s “dark side.”

During the upcoming confirmation hearings of these two nominees for President Barack Obama’s national security team, we all may get a revealing look into the upside-down world of Washington’s moral and geopolitical priorities, where too much skepticism about rushing to war is disqualifying and complicity in war crimes is okay, maybe even expected.

Still, there is at least a hope that Brennan’s confirmation hearing might provide an opening for the Senate Intelligence Committee to force out the secret legal justifications and the operational procedures for the lethal drone program that has expanded under Obama, including successfully targeting for death U.S. citizen and al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

Over the past few years, senior administration officials have praised the rigorous standards applied to these life-or-death decisions by Brennan and his counterterrorism team, but have refused to release the constitutional rationales for the President exerting these extraordinary powers or to explain exactly the methodology of selecting targets.

Presumably, some committee member will ask Brennan about such nitpicky things as constitutional due process and the Bill of Rights even if the panel will have to scurry into a classified session to hear the answers. But there is still a chance that Brennan or one of the senators will blurt something out, shedding light on one of the darkest corners of the ongoing war against al-Qaeda and other Islamic militants.

Yet, what hits closest to home for many of my Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) colleagues and me is Brennan’s earlier role, under President George W. Bush and CIA Director George Tenet, in corrupting the CIA’s analysis directorate into fabricating fraudulent intelligence to “justify” war on Iraq. From the perspective of CIA analysts who worked by a very different ethos, such treachery is truly unacceptable.

Brennan, as Tenet’s chief of staff and then the CIA’s Deputy Executive Director, had a front-row seat for all this. Former CIA colleagues who served with Brennan before and during the war with Iraq assert that there is absolutely no possibility that Brennan could have been unaware of the deliberate corruption of intelligence analysis.

Brennan’s confirmation hearing, with the nominee under oath, might be the best opportunity to hear his explanation of what he did when he faced two conflicting allegiances – his career advancement on one side and his duty to the nation as an intelligence officer on the other.

Phony Intelligence

After a five-year investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the pre-Iraq-war “intelligence” was described by committee chair Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, as “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Hagel, then a senator from Nebraska and a member of the committee, was one of two Republicans voting to approve the Senate report, making it bipartisan and presumably annoying some of his more partisan brethren who resisted admitting to the lies that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney used to take the country to war.

Hagel also has co-chaired Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, giving him even more insights into the challenges of rebuilding a professional intelligence service, one that puts a commitment to objective analysis over pleasing the boss. If only Brennan could show such a commitment.

A principal objection to Brennan’s return to the CIA is that he has rarely displayed any rigorous discipline in his approach to the truth. One of his most famous deviations from reality was his gilding-the-lily presentation of Seal Team 6’s killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Just hours after Osama bin Laden was killed, Brennan gave the press this rendition of what had happened and how bin Laden had died: “He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. … Just thinking about that from a visual perspective: here is bin Laden … living in this million-dollar-plus compound … in an area that is far removed from the front …  hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield. I think it really just speaks to just, to how false his narrative has been over the years.”

Even giving Brennan the benefit of the doubt about the “fog of war” and such, his spin suggested not so much a lack of still-fuzzy details but an assembling of fake details, his own false narrative if you will. Brennan’s account was more agit-prop than an attempt to tell the story straight.

It was not enough to let the facts speak for themselves – Americans were surely not going to be sympathetic to the man they blame for the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people – but Brennan still chose to further belittle bin Laden as a coward hiding behind one of his wives while seeking to save himself.

Later, White House spokesman Jay Carney clarified some of Brennan’s inaccuracies. Bin Laden was not armed; he did not use one of his wives as a shield; and there was no firefight to speak of, only an initial exchange of gunfire between the U.S. commandos and one of bin Laden’s couriers in an adjacent building.

There were other details that came out subsequently, including that bin Laden’s 12-year-old daughter was in the room and watched as he was shot and killed, according to the London Guardian. Pakistani officials said bin Laden’s daughter had been hit in the ankle moments before the American assault team reached the room where they found and killed her father, and she then passed out.

Given the recent sorry history of CIA directors participating in what amount to propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed as much at the American people as any foreign enemy, a nominee for CIA director should not have a record of making stuff up or misleading the public.

Ducking Hard Truth

Another Brennan example of ducking hard truths was his claim in June 2011 that during the previous year, “there has not been a single collateral death” from CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. Far more credible reporting shows that there have been hundreds of people killed simply for being in the vicinity of an al-Qaeda or Taliban suspect.

Yet, some administration officials are so touchy on this point that they suggest that dissenters might be terrorist sympathizers. On Feb. 5, 2012, the New York Times’ Scott Shane reported the following quote from an anonymous “senior American counterterrorism official”:

“One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists … has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions – there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed.” So, raising tough questions means you’re with the terrorists.

Brennan had similar problems with forthrightness when he was assigned to explain to a press conference on Jan. 8, 2010, how the infamous “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab almost downed an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Clearly, Brennan did not expect to be asked a real question, like what motivates an upper-class Muslim youth from Nigeria to do such a thing, but a tenacious 89-year-old Helen Thomas was still in the White House press corps and was one of the very few journalists (as distinct from the stenographers) willing to pose such questions.

Thomas asked why Abdulmuttalab did what he did, a question of human motivation that is rarely part of the Washington conversation.

Thomas: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. … They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmuttalab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a — long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

The why would be the sort of question you might wish a CIA director would want answered – and answered honestly – since enemy motivation is a crucial element in winning a war or, more importantly, avoiding one.

Just Boilerplate

But all the American public gets is boilerplate about how al-Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men. Or, as Brennan suggests, some “militants” are just hard-wired for things like knocking down aircraft over Detroit with themselves on board.

There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks. Perhaps, the U.S. and Western proclivity toward intervening in their affairs over many decades – propping up corrupt dictators and favoring Israel over the Palestinians – has left some Muslims looking for any way to strike back, even self-destructive acts of terror.

Maybe today, one of the reasons for the number of “militants” willing to attack Americans might have something to do with drones buzzing over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen,  Somalia and other locales – and with distant “pilots” getting clearance from Brennan and his associates to push some button and obliterate some unsuspecting target.

Despite the American people’s legitimate right to know what’s being done in their name, Brennan gets thin-skinned when criticized or asked tough questions. Four years ago, when President Obama was first considering Brennan to head the CIA, Brennan faced questions about what he did for the Bush/Cheney “dark side” and promptly withdrew his name. In a bitter letter, he blamed “strong criticism in some quarters, prompted by [his] previous service with the” CIA.

Yet, Brennan’s 25-year career at the CIA would seem to be fair game in evaluating whether he should run the place. His former managers in CIA’s analysis directorate tell me he was a bust as an analyst.

Instead, like former CIA Director (and more recently Defense Secretary) Robert Gates, Brennan’s career zoomed upwards after he caught the attention of key White House officials – in Brennan’s case, George Tenet who held the top intelligence advisory job under President Bill Clinton before he was made CIA deputy director and then director.

Of course, the tradeoff for that kind of advancement often is your integrity, both as an intelligence officer and as a public servant. Indeed, it’s hard to conceive how someone could have flourished in the corrupt world of U.S. intelligence, especially since its descent into the post-9/11 “dark side,” without selling out one’s professionalism and morality.

Those who stood their ground and demonstrated integrity found themselves out on the street or marginalized as “soft on terror” – or maybe they were considered suspiciously finicky when it came to “quaint and obsolete” notions like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Geneva Conventions and the rule of law.

But don’t worry. Endorsing the nomination of Brennan on Wednesday, the editors of the Washington Post tell usthat, although “the administration’s current strategy of countering al-Qaeda in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia with drone strikes is unsustainable … the strikes are certainly legal under U.S. and international law … [even though they] are problematic, given the backlash they have caused in Pakistan.”

Still, it might be nice if the American people could see the secret legal justifications underpinning Brennan’s last four years as keeper of the “kill lists.”

Obama’s War Against Libya

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The next time that empire comes calling in the name of human rights, please be found standing idly by

Maximilian C. Forte’s new book Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa (released November 20) is a searing indictment of NATO’s 2011 military intervention in Libya, and of the North American and European left that supported it. He argues that NATO powers, with the help of the Western left who “played a supporting role by making substantial room for the dominant U.S. narrative and its military policies,” marshalled support for their intervention by creating a fiction that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was about to carry out a massacre against a popular, pro-democracy uprising, and that the world could not stand idly by and watch a genocide unfold.

Forte takes this view apart, showing that a massacre was never in the cards, much less genocide. Gaddafi didn’t threaten to hunt down civilians, only those who had taken up armed insurrection—and he offered rebels amnesty if they laid down their arms. What’s more, Gaddafi didn’t have the military firepower to lay siege to Benghazi (site of the initial uprising) and hunt down civilians from house to house. Nor did his forces carry out massacres in the towns they recaptured…something that cannot be said for the rebels.

Citing mainstream media reports that CIA and British SAS operatives were already on the ground “either before or at the very same time as (British prime minister David) Cameron and (then French president Nicolas) Sarkozy began to call for military intervention in Libya”, Forte raises “the possibility that Western powers were at least waiting for the first opportunity to intervene in Libya to commit regime change under the cover of a local uprising.” And he adds, they were doing so “without any hesitation to ponder what if any real threats to civilians might have been.” Gaddafi, a fierce opponent of fundamentalist Wahhabist/Salafist Islam “faced several armed uprisings and coup attempts before— and in the West there was no public clamor for his head when he crushed them.” (The same, too, can be said of the numerous uprisings and assassination attempts carried out by the Syrian Muslim Brothers against the Assads, all of which were crushed without raising much of an outcry in the West, until now.)

Rejecting a single factor explanation that NATO intervened to secure access to Libyan oil, Forte presents a multi-factorial account, which invokes elements of the hunt for profits, economic competition with China and Russia, and establishing US hegemony in Africa. Among the gains of the intervention, writes Forte, were:

1) increased access for U.S. corporations to massive Libyan expenditures on infrastructure development (and now reconstruction), from which U.S. corporations had frequently been locked out when Gaddafi was in power; 2) warding off any increased acquisition of Libyan oil contracts by Chinese and Russian firms; 3) ensuring that a friendly regime was in place that was not influenced by ideas of “resource nationalism;” 4) increasing the presence of AFRICOM in African affairs, in an attempt to substitute for the African Union and to entirely displace the Libyan-led Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD); 5) expanding the U.S. hold on key geostrategic locations and resources; 6) promoting U.S. claims to be serious about freedom, democracy, and human rights, and of being on the side of the people of Africa, as a benign benefactor; 7) politically stabilizing the North African region in a way that locked out opponents of the U.S.; and, 8) drafting other nations to undertake the work of defending and advancing U.S. political and economic interests, under the guise of humanitarianism and protecting civilians.

Forte challenges the view that Gaddafi was in bed with the West as a “strange view of romance.” It might be more aptly said, he counters, that the United States was in bed with Libya on the fight against Al Qaeda and Islamic terrorists, since “Libya led by Gaddafi (had) fought against Al Qaeda years before it became public enemy number one in the U.S.” Indeed, years “before Bin Laden became a household name in the West, Libya issued an arrest warrant for his capture.” Gaddafi was happy to enlist Washington’s help in crushing a persistent threat to his secular rule.

Moreover, the bed in which Libya and the United States found themselves was hardly a comfortable one. Gaddafi complained bitterly to US officials that the benefits he was promised for ending Libya’s WMD program and capitulating on the Lockerbie prosecution were not forthcoming. And the US State Department and US corporations, for their part, complained bitterly of Gaddafi’s “resource nationalism” and attempts to “Libyanize” the economy. One of the lessons the NATO intervention has taught is that countries that want to maintain some measure of independence from Washington are well advised not to surrender the threat of self-defense.

Forte, to use his own words, gives the devil his due, noting that:

Gaddafi was a remarkable and unique exception among the whole range of modern Arab leaders, for being doggedly altruistic, for funding development programs in dozens of needy nations, for supporting national liberation struggles that had nothing to do with Islam or the Arab world, for pursuing an ideology that was original and not simply the product of received tradition or mimesis of exogenous sources, and for making Libya a presence on the world stage in a way that was completely out of proportion with its population size.

He points out as well that “Libya had reaped international isolation for the sake of supporting the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and the African National Congress (ANC)”, which, once each of these organizations had made their own separate peace, left Libya behind continuing to fight.

Forte invokes Sirte in the title of his book to expose the lie that NATO’s intervention was motivated by humanitarianism and saving lives. “Sirte, once promoted by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as a possible capital of a future United States of Africa, and one of the strongest bases of support for the revolution he led, was found to be in near total ruin by visiting journalists who came after the end of the bombing campaign by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). “ This,” observes Forte, “is what ‘protecting civilians’ actually looks like, and it looks like crimes against humanity.” “The only lives the U.S. was interested in saving,” he argues “were those of the insurgents, saving them so they could defeat Gaddafi.” And yet “the slaughter in Sirte…barely raised an eyebrow among the kinds of Western audiences and opinion leaders who just a few months before clamored for ‘humanitarian intervention.’”

Among those who clamored for humanitarian intervention were members of the “North American and European left—reconditioned, accommodating, and fearful—(who) played a supporting role by making substantial room for the dominant U.S. narrative and its military policies.” Forte doesn’t name names, except for a reference to Noam Chomsky, whom he criticizes for “poor judgment and flawed analyses” for supporting “the no-fly zone intervention and the rebellion as ‘wonderful’ and ‘liberation’”.

Forte also aims a stinging rebuke at those who treated anti-imperialism as a bad word. “Throughout this debacle, anti-imperialism has been scourged as if it were a threat greater than the West’s global military domination, as if anti-imperialism had given us any of the horrors of war witnessed thus far this century. Anti-imperialism was treated in public debate in North America as the province of political lepers.” This calls to mind opprobrious leftist figures who discovered a fondness for the obloquy “mechanical anti-imperialists” which they hurdled with great gusto at anti-imperialist opponents of the NATO intervention.

“NATO’s intervention did not stop armed conflict in Libya,” observes Forte—it continues to the present. “Massacres were not prevented, they were enabled, and many occurred after NATO intervened and because NATO intervened.” It is for these reasons he urges readers to stand idly by the next time that empire comes calling in the name of human rights.

Slouching Towards Sirte is a penetrating critique, not only of the NATO intervention in Libya, but of the concept of humanitarian intervention and imperialism in our time. It is the definitive treatment of NATO’s war on Libya. It is difficult to imagine it will be surpassed.

Maximilian C. Forte, Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Libya and Africa, Baraka Books, Montreal, ISBN 978-1-926824-52-9. Available November 20, 2012. http://www.barakabooks.com/

2013: What is the United Nations Organization For?

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The United Nations Organization was founded in 1945 to stop conflicts and provide a forum for debate, discussion and dialogue for crisis management. It costs around 15 billion USD a year to run, so in indexed terms has already spent some one thousand billion dollars of taxpayers’ money. On…er…?

The basic question is, what is the UNO for? If the answer is a repetition of the paragraph above, then the response is that it has failed miserably and that it is an absurdly expensive waste of time and space. If it costs around 15 billion USD annually to run, that is getting on for two dollars per person per year, every year, and for what?

Did the United Nations Organization provide a basis for debate before the invasion of Iraq?

No, because the United States of America, the United Kingdom and a handful of NATO countries simply decided to sidestep the Organization, avoiding the UN Security Council because it would have voted against an invasion. The USA and UK therefore rendered it useless back in 2003. Since then, the UNO has spent an additional 150 billion dollars doing what exactly?

Did it stop the war in Libya?

No, it stood back as the aforementioned demonic duo, now joined by France (to form the FUKUS Axis – France, UK, US) ran amok, supporting terrorist groups on their own lists of proscribed groups, placing boots on the ground, despite being bound not to by UNSC 1970 and 1973 (2011) and yet again breaking every law in the book. If the British Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary of State, William Hague, is still sitting smugly in his job despite breaking the law of his own country, then it becomes patently obvious that the United Nations Organization has as much clout as a squashed, syphilitic slug lying under a tonne of sea salt.

However, the slug doesn’t spend one thousand billion dollars and certainly doesn’t cost fifteen billion a year.

Let us now move on to Somalia: this conflict started back in the early nineties (more precisely in 1991). What has the United Nations done? What has the United Nations done to stop al-Qaeda, apart from allowing al-Qaeda into Iraq, from which it was barred by Saddam Hussein, and allow al-Qaeda into Libya, from which it was barred by Muammar al-Qadhafi?

Did the United Nations stop the conflict in the Balkans, as the West moved in to stir up hatred among Croats, Bosnians, Serbs, Macedonians?

Did the UNO stop al-Qaeda moving into the Balkans?

Did the UNO stop the Albanian terrorist movement Ushtria Çlirimtare ë Kosovës (Kosovo Liberation Army) perpetrating civil unrest attacks in Kosovo? Did the UNO stop the illegal declaration of independence of the Serbian Province of Kosovo and its subsequent (illegal and inconsequential) “recognition” by FUKUS poodle states?

And what has the UNO done to prevent the bloodshed in Syria, where once again the FUKUS Axis has sided with terrorists, is sending in its own special forces and is making the conflict bloodier, the more the Syrian Government resists this demonic scourge?

True, the UNO does some excellent humanitarian work, clearing up the mess it has failed to prevent; yet, if it did its job properly in the first place, there would be no need for the fire engine. True, UN Women does some excellent work against gender violence and towards women’s rights; UNESCO does a lot to protect world heritage, register languages and so on, António Guterres does a superb job in helping refugees at UNHCR and true, UNICEF does some excellent work in protecting and educating children.

As for the World Health Organization, it is useful as a research facility and reasonably good at distributing medicines and mosquito nets; as a disease prevention organism it is as risible as the crisis management arm – after all, during the Swine Flu crisis in 2009 it limited itself to informing us as to what Phase the new potentially fatal virus was reaching as the WHO sat back and watched Influenza A H1N1 go globe-trotting.

If this is where the UNO is at after sixty-seven years, then let us conclude it is a useful humanitarian organization but would be rendered useless if an effective United Nations Organization was to do the job the UN was set up to do in the first place.

Let us be honest, if any manager of any company had spent a thousand billion dollars over 67 years producing the same sort of ineffective results the UNO has presented, then (s)he would be crucified. As for the UNO, this year it is set to waste another 15 billion USD…of OUR money.

Give me ten valid professionals, a fraction of the money the UN has spent and seven years, not 67, and I can state publicly I would do a far better job myself.

Guest Post: Is American Justice Dead?

Submitted by David Galland, via Casey Research,

Every nation-state has a body of laws woven into the fabric of society. As Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has commented on extensively, the stronger the rule of law, the stronger the economy.

And by "stronger" laws, I mean laws that are impervious to tampering for personal or political gains. The connection between a sound judiciary and economic health is readily comprehensible, except maybe to a politician... businesses and individuals are far more likely to invest capital in a country with understandable laws that are impartially and universally enforced than if the opposite condition exists.

That's because the lack of a consistent body of law breeds uncertainty and adds a huge element of risk for entrepreneurs. That is the case here in Argentina, where hardly a week goes by without La Presidenta and her meddlesome comrades cooking up some new hurdle for businesses to overcome.

Which brings me back to the matter at hand – American justice on a slippery slope.

Few recent cases make the contention clearer than the announcement last week by the US Justice Department that it had settled its case against HSBC for acting as the bag men for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels. The fine, $1.9 billion, amounts to about five weeks of revenue for the bank.

And that was pretty much it.

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine, who can run hot or cold when it comes to reporting, in my opinion, nails his column on the verdict, which you can read here.

The basic setup is that for years, at the highest levels of HSBC, the bank worked hand in glove with the drug cartels to launder their money. So smooth was their relationship that the drug gangs used special cardboard boxes for them to fill with cash – boxes that were designed to fit easily through the teller windows of the HSBC branches in Mexico.

Now, don't get me wrong – I am 100% against the so-called "War on Drugs." That there are hundreds of thousands of Americans in prison for the "crime" of voluntarily ingesting recreational drugs, or providing said drugs in a rare free-market transaction (there's a willing buyer and a willing seller and no regulations – at least none that anyone pays any attention to), is an abomination.

And so it is that the US has the highest prison population in the world, and by a wide margin: on a per-capita basis, it is 33% higher than the closest contender, Russia.

If you take into account everyone under "correctional supervision," 3.1% of the US population is either in jail or on probation (for blacks, it's a stunning 9.2%). According to Human Rights Watch, since 1980 the number of people in US jails for drug charges has increased twelvefold.

Yet, the money men for the murderous cartels that supply the stuff – the sort of fat-cat villains that serve as the centerpiece of every James Bond movie – get off with a hand slap.

How is this possible? The answer is that, just like the much-maligned "banana republic," the judicial system in the Anglo-Saxon world has been bifurcated into two systems – one for the politically favored and the other for the rest of us.

In the case of HSBC, the rationale for management being spared even a criminal trial, let alone years behind bars, is that the bank is too big to fail. And that should anyone within the bank be collared for their colossal crimes, it could provide the trigger for the widespread collapse of the global financial system.

To which an Anglo-Saxon from the UK might retort, "Bollocks!" This is rather a case of the politically connected and their equally politically connected, high-priced law firms twisting the judicial system to their purposes.

Another recent case is that of the LIBOR fixing scandal.

As you know, in this case a group of banks clearly conspired to rig the rates on the interest-rate index used to underpin over $300 trillion in loans. As the scandal was revealed, it was also revealed that top tax dodger and now US Treasury Secretary Tim "Timmy" Geithner was aware of the rigging as far back as at least 2007 when operating the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Yet Geithner's elevated position in the Obama administration meant that this inconvenient revelation quietly faded into nothingness. As did the clear implication that if Geithner knew about it, so did untold scores of others at the Fed and other institutions at the time.

Meanwhile, back in the present, instead of rounding up the heads of these institutions, it was announced this week that a handful of floor traders – the ever useful minions – have been fingered to take the fall. For the sake of the public show, I suspect the fall will be pretty hard.

Hell, the last time I checked, even Jon Corzine, who as a former senator and governor of New Jersey is the über-insider, is still a free man despite being the lead actor in the bankruptcy of MF Global and the subsequent looting of billions in customer funds. No one, except maybe Corzine himself, thinks that he isn't criminally complicit, yet, at this writing, there isn't even a hint he'll be prosecuted.

As David Webb has so thoroughly documented, a spate of cases over the last decade has set a clear precedent that financial institutions – at least those of a size to count with the political class – are pretty much free to lie, cheat, misrepresent, and even use their clients' funds to trade for their own book.

And if things go wrong, they can pass the losses on to the clients, or in the case of Corzine simply shrug his Savile Row-clad shoulders, and feign ignorance about where said funds went.

It Goes On… and On…

And the conniving and criminality doesn't stop at the judiciary but has infested pretty much every corner of the government.

A personal recent favorite was Hillary Clinton's oh-so-convenient bout of fainting that kept her from testifying about the truly bizarre attack on the Benghazi consulate, thereby skipping the direct damage to her career that would have resulted from having to answer the unanswerable in front of television cameras.

Then there's the sweetheart deal embedded in the soon-to-be-updated federal regulations related to mortgages. Given all the abuses leading up to the housing crash, John Q. might posit that there will be strong teeth in these new regulations. Sure, there's a couple – but lookie what else is in the new regs; this from the New York Times

As regulators complete new mortgage rules, banks are about to get a significant advantage: protection against homeowner lawsuits.

The rules are meant to help bolster the housing market. By shielding banks from potential litigation, policy makers contend that the industry will have a powerful incentive to make higher-quality home loans.

But some banking and housing specialists worry that borrowers are losing a critical safeguard. Industries rarely get broad protection from consumer lawsuits, and banks would seem unlikely candidates given the range of abuses revealed during the housing bust.

Mind-boggling.

Skipping across the pond, we have the truly incredible case of Julian Assange, who is now a prisoner, surrounded by upwards of 100 police officers, in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he's been seeking asylum.

At one point, a senior British official suggested they were seriously considering throwing hundreds of years of diplomatic precedent out of the window by storming the embassy to get their man.

Yet his purported crime, having consensual sex with two different women without a condom (in one case, he had one, but it apparently broke) would, at most, be treated as a minor offense in pretty much any court, in pretty much every country in the world. Unless, of course, he knew he had AIDS and was deliberately trying to transmit it, which he wasn't.

Do your own research, and maybe you'll draw a different conclusion – here's one fairly thorough story on the charges against Assange – but that the UK government is willing to spend untold sums of money it can't afford keeping him penned up in the Ecuadorian embassy smacks of collusion and corruption.

What's really going on, of course, is that Assange's WikiLeaks organization embarrassed the power elite by doing what the media no longer does – getting to the truth, in this case releasing a stash of embarrassing diplomatic cables.

While Assange is fighting the good fight, it's a fight against entrenched political interests, and so it's a losing battle. Aided by the corrupt judiciary or, failing that, the malleable military, it's just a matter of time before he ends up in a cell next to Bradley Manning whose tortured corpus is now on trial for giving up state secrets that were really not all that secret.

In economic policy, too, the evidence of two different systems is glaring. Look no further than the Fed's recent decision to light the afterburners on over a trillion in new money creation each year.

Whom does such a policy help? The politicians, of course, by allowing them to claim they "fixed" the economy that they broke in the first place… when all they are really doing is replacing the capital formation and spending of a healthy private sector with the polluted effluence of government disbursements.

Whom does such a policy hurt? The population at large, by eroding the value of everything they own and eviscerating their ability to earn money on their money through a free market in interest rates… all the while fostering yet more malinvestment in the Potemkin villages of an uneconomic solar industry, electric cars, high-speed trains, etc.

Make no mistake, the Fed and the government are keenly aware of the damaging consequences of their actions – but, out of self-interest, take those actions nonetheless.

The enviro-socialists that have bought their way into the corridors of power provide another array of examples, using laughably bad science and arbitrary rulings to disadvantage key sectors of the economy such as energy and mining.

What's It Mean to You and Me?

There is little question that the vast majority of the public is ignorant or apathetic, or both, to the pervasive corruption of the political classes and their financiers.

But even if they were paying attention and outraged, the fact of the matter is that things have degraded to the point where there is next to nothing John Q. can do about it. Sure, you can write your Congressman; just be sure to be extra polite, or your letter will end up in the hands of zee Homeland Security.

Ditto if you write angry emails and send them to all your friends. Just don't make the mistake of thinking there is still such a thing as privacy or the right of free speech in the Anglosphere.

And heavens forbid you try to organize a physical protest. Next thing you know, you'll end up wearing a pair of these bad boys coming to your friendly police officer's belt soon.

(Not only do these next-gen cuffs restrain you, but they allow the arresting officer to remotely deliver electric shocks and, if that doesn't do the trick, even inject drugs into you.)

Of course, if your company or industry wants to fight it out in the courts, you have to be ready and able to spend millions in legal fees fighting a government with unlimited funds (provided, of course, by your taxes and money borrowed from the Chinese or ginned up by the Fed).

What I'm trying to say is that, regardless of what the popular corruption indexes show – and those are typically based on fairly suspect surveys on matters such as transparency in corporate reporting or whether bribes are required to do business – when you take into account the systematic skewing of the judicial and electoral systems to favor the entrenched politicos and their friends in high places, the level of corruption in the Anglosphere would make an African despot blush.

It's not an accident that the Republicans and the Democrats, two sides of the same coin despite all the rhetoric, are never remotely at risk of losing their collective grip on power – the system has been carefully and thoroughly rigged to prevent that from happening.

Logically, if there is virtually nothing the public at large can do about the rigged game they are forced to live with, then it comes down to decisions we make as individuals.

Some general approaches for your consideration.

  1. Suck it up. The Stoic approach is to recognize there are certain things you can't do anything about, so put the hypocrisy and self-dealing of officialdom and their enablers out of mind and live your life the best you know how.
  1. Profit from it. While it may seem counterintuitive, the more challenging the environment for business creation, the more money an especially hard-charging entrepreneur can make. This is why Asian shop owners open up in ghettos and why the margins for "war profiteers" are so high – because they literally have to risk life and limb to collect them.

    A successful acquaintance recently told me that, as the head of the Argentine branch of a major international electronics brand, his division was regularly able to pull down margins in excess of 40% while his counterparts in less volatile political environments were happy with less than 10%.

    It just takes an extra measure of patience and fortitude to overcome the challenges that scare less determined individuals away.

  1. Move West… or South, but probably not North. A combination of #1 and 2 above, the brave minority might want to consider taking the show on the road.
  1. If you can't beat them, join them. As Doug Casey has often pointed out, the effect of Pareto's Law operating over time on the large democracies has resulted in the worst sort of people controlling the levers of government at the federal, state and local level. If you happen to be a sociopath with control issues, then you might want to hop on the gravy train and worm your way into government, or into one of the many parasitic enterprises sucking the life from the body politic.
  1. Go outlaw. Yesterday, a flash mob gathered in the southern Argentine city of Bariloche for the sole purpose of looting a large store of electronics, food and booze, and sundry other items that will make the Christmas holidays all the more festive.

    When I heard of the incident, I mentioned to my wife that this could very well be the proverbial first shot in the breakdown of civil society in cities around the world. And sure enough, as I was writing, the news broke that spontaneous mobs have formed in a number of cities around Argentina for the sole purpose of looting stores.

    This is precisely the sort of thing one can expect in an economy laid low by political corruption, malfeasance and self-serving meddling. When people lose hope, and lose faith that the judicial system will protect them from the entrenched interests, then it is well within the range of some of those people to just say screw it and go outlaw.

I could be wrong, but I think what happened in Bariloche yesterday has the potential to be just as seminal as the self-immolation in Tunisia that set off the Arab Spring.

The implications of mobs deciding to come together to just take what they want are potentially huge. In the Anglo-Saxon world, it could provide exactly the excuse needed to bring down the stainless-steel curtain built with hundreds of billions of homeland security expenditures over the past decade.

In fact, while I am probably overstating it, the action of the mob in Bariloche yesterday could be the missing link between Neil Howe's Third and Fourth Turning, ushering in the next and most troubled era.

It's ironic that it's happening in here in my new retreat in Argentina, but it's of no personal import because our new hometown of Cafayate is rural, small and very successful, and the sort of place where everyone knows everyone else. And, besides, there are no large supermarkets to raid.

In addition, despite the dark era of military rule (or perhaps because of it), Argentina is not a violent culture, and the big cities are few and far between. The same can't be said of places like Chicago and Detroit, where flash mobs have been increasingly cropping up with the primary intention of committing violence.

How fast and how far things will spread from here is only a matter of conjecture, but the range of possibilities is wide.

Regardless of whether the rule of law continues to be diminished through the acts of corrupt politicians or a mob – or through the militarized arm of the politicos trying to control the mob – I fear the knock-on consequences on the economy and on society at large.

I really don't want to be a Chicken Little, but taking some basic precautions to protect yourself and your assets is only commonsense at this juncture.

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New Boss at the CIA: Brennan’s “Legal Framework” for Drone Killings

cia

As the majority of Washington’s political and media establishments concentrate their firepower on Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination for U.S. Defense Secretary, John Brennan is doing what he does best and slipping through the shadows. Rumored since President Barack Obama secured his second term in office, Brennan has finally received a formal nomination to replace the scandalized David Petraeus and adva